Our philosophy teacher often told us: “The best reflection on life is to reflect on the mystery of death!” Death: it’s a very serious business! It cannot be trivialized! Moreover, thoughts around death cannot be superficially set aside, avoided, almost as if it did not concern us.
Death is an inevitable experience which we are all called to deal with. It may be the death of many people we meet in life, of people linked to us by family or emotional ties and, finally, our own death. It is paradoxical, but in a period of history, like ours, in which it seems that everything is being done to exorcise every serious and constructive reference to death, more and more often, death is almost orchestrated in a way to cover up the reality of it or to hide from that reality and at times it even becomes a morbid spectacle.
TV series are full of scenes of violent death, murder or suicide; the news and magazines morbidly indulge in news of massacres, wars and feminicides; young people challenge death every day with extreme activities and by taking substances that are harmful to the body, the mind and of course the soul.
Yet, the desire that pervades our culture is to eliminate everything that has the flavour of limitation, fragility, and, ultimately, death in its various manifestations. We try to plan and select the psycho-physical quality right from the mother’s womb; the elderly and frail are isolated; the decision to forcibly end a life just because it is no longer productive or even because it has become a social cost is disguised as a gesture of humanity.
Today the texts of the Word of God affirm exactly the opposite: a serious and serene confrontation with death is an indication of wisdom and hope! Looked at in itself, death generates sadness, anguish, sometimes desperation. Without a light that overcomes the narrow human horizon, death presents itself as a fierce judgment on life: it almost tells us that nothing makes sense if everything ends, that nothing deserves commitment, effort and passion if it has no future.
The splendent Light we need reaches us from the life-giving Paschal Mystery of Jesus: the certainty of His glorious Resurrection tears apart the heavy and dark veil that prevents us from breathing, breaks down the wall that separates us from a perspective of hope, shatters the cold anguish that arises from the drama of loneliness, which death brings with it. This is why the encounter with Jesus who returns victorious after His Passion, Death and Resurrection is described in the evangelical parable as a wedding celebration: He is the groom who wishes to make us participants in His life, in eternal Life, giving us dignity and privileges of “The King’s Bride”.
The glorious return of Jesus, which brings with it His gift, is a sign of His passionate and total love, paid for with the offering of His very life. It is a freely given gift, and as such, it is not imposed, but offered; it is delivered, but we are not obliged to receive it. Moreover, the gift is the fruit of Love, total and unconditional and the only adequate response on our part is faithful love. The definitive encounter with Jesus, which coincides with the moment of our personal death, will highlight the radical orientation of our heart, of our desire, of our will, in a word, of our Love.
The one who loves is oriented towards the Beloved of his or her heart: he or she seeks him, desires him or her, cannot even wait to meet him or her, scans the horizon to see his or her arrival, watches so that nothing distracts him or her or diverts him or her from the full fulfilment of his or her longing desire. What love! The supreme moment of our death will clearly and unequivocally reveal the quality of our life.
Today the liturgy of the Church calls us to awareness: thinking about the end of life leads us to reflect on the end of life. It invites us to rediscover that the good outcome of our life is decided on the relationship with the Lord Jesus, it puts us before the fundamental question: for whom do I live? Who do I look for in everything I do? Do I desire eternal Life and live so as to receive it as a gift? The Lord Jesus is ready to definitively fill us with His life-giving presence: this is our hope and this is our strength. Who am I waiting for? With what frame of mind am I waiting?
Brothers and sisters, we do not want to leave you in ignorance about those who have died, so that you will not be sad like others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also God, through Jesus, will gather with Him those who have died.
*Custody of the Holy Land
By Fr Luke Gregory ofm*