Skip to comments.On the “Beauty” of Dying
Posted on 10/16/2012 3:40:05 PM PDT by NYer
In the Gospel from this past Sunday the Lord spoke of us giving away all we had to come and follow him. TO many that sort of talk seems crazy and we wonder how we can ever do it. But in fact we WILL all do it, as we finally die to this world and have our only treasure in Heaven.
As a priest it has been my privilege to accompany many on their final journey as they prepare for death. Some have gone quickly, others have lingered for years in nursing homes. From a pure worldly perspective, death seems little less than a disaster and a cause for great sadness. But from a perspective of faith there is something “beautiful” going on.
I know you may think it bold that I describe it this way, but in the dying process something necessary and beautiful is taking place. It is born in pain but it brings forth gifts and glory if we are faithful.
In particular I see two scriptures essentially fulfilled in many who are dying.
I. And Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). When I walk the halls of nursing homes I behold a rather astonishing thing: Men and women who raised families, ran businesses, protested bravely in the Civil Rights Movement, fought wars, gave sage advice to their children, commanded respect in their workplace and communities…, most of these have become like little children.
Some can no longer walk, some need to be fed, some cry and need consolation, some hold dolls, many wear diapers, some can no longer talk, many need constant care. “Ah, how tragic,” the world says. But an increasing part of me sees a beauty, for they are changing and becoming like little children. A kind of innocence is being restored, and a complete dependence, without which they may never make it to heaven. Now their status as little children is fully evident and they become humble enough for heaven.
Painful but beautiful, very beautiful.
A very dear friend of mine died a few years ago. Catherine had been the Pastoral Associate and business manger of the parish of my first pastorate. I depended on her for practically everything, and she knew just about everything, having been at the parish for over 50 years. Rather suddenly, she came down with a rare and aggressive form of Alzheimer’s disease. Within six months of diagnosis she no longer remembered anyone. And yet there was a childlike joy that came over her. She had a favorite doll she hugged close and when I would walk in the room she would light up. She no longer recognized me as far as I could tell but she loved company. And she would sing, without clearly understood words but it seemed a kind of childlike nursery song.
A remarkable thing to see. Here was a woman I had so thoroughly depended on now in such a state. But she was happier than I had ever seen her. She had become like a little child, and it was clear that God was preparing her for heaven. That was a gift, though a painful one.
And another great gift was this: Almost to her last day, she never failed to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. Long after she had stopped recognizing anyone else, she still received communion with great devotion. She might be humming or looking around, but as soon as I reached in my pocket for the pyx, she stopped, looked and made the sign of the cross and folded her hands. That was years of training and faithfulness. It was a beautiful testimony of her undying faith in the Eucharist and her last lesson to all of us.
II. There is only one thing I ask of the Lord, this alone I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and gaze on the beauty of the Lord within his temple.(Psalm 27:4)
Now I suppose most of us who are still healthy and reasonably active would have a hard time really praying this prayer absolutely. The fact is we want a lot of things: a pay increase, creature comforts, good health, we want for the project we are working to go well, and yes, somewhere in all that, God too and heaven, but later. You understand, heaven can wait.
And yet how obtuse our desires can be. It’s really quite strange to want anything more than God and heaven, but, fact is, many struggle to want God more than the things of this earth. Somehow God has to gently purge us of earthly desires so that, little by little, all we want is Him.
And here too the dying process is so important and beautiful. Little by little in life we give back to God our abilities, our health, many of our loved ones. And finally we are led to that place in our dying days when we are given the grace to give everything back.
I remember my father saying to me in his final weeks, “I just want to be with God.” I heard my grandmother say that too, and many other I have accompanied on their final journey, “I just want to be with God.” And they meant it too. It wasn’t a slogan now. They had given everything back, their treasure was now in heaven. They had sold all they had for the “pearl of great price.” Now they could sing the words of the old spiritual: “You may have all this world, just give me Jesus.”Indeed, they had sold, given away, everything they had, and now they were ready to follow Jesus.
For just about all of us it will take the dying process to get us to the place where we too can say, “There is only one thing I ask of the Lord, this alone I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and gaze on the beauty of the Lord within his temple.”
And so there it is, the “beauty” of dying. It is a strange and painful beauty to be sure, but it is beautiful nonetheless. In an age of euthanasia that sees no purpose, no value in the dying process, we do well to behold and proclaim its strange but true beauty. We ought not fail to recognize the dignity of the dying who fulfill scripture as they make their final passage.
Surely we grieve, but through faith we also perceive a strange and wonderful beauty.
One of the finest hymns about dying was written by Henry F. Lyte in 1847. He wrote this as he approached his own death from tuberculosis:
The greatest tragedy we find in contemporary society, is the number of people who are left to die, alone, be it in hospice or a nursing home. Perhaps you can remember these souls each day, when you pray the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy or the Rosary.
There’s a lot to be said about dying. If I didn’t have a nursing baby, I’d be all, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ,” like St. Paul.
I look forward to the day I leave this earth and I’m with my Savior Jesus for all eternity. Such joy we can’t even begin to imagine awaits us as God’s children. Juat today I asked The Lord to take me home, away from this painful sinful world.
Outlaw Josey Wales
beauty of dying??
Planned Parenthood centers are shrines. who knew?
I watched someone I loved die of Alzheimer’s. There was nothing beautiful about it.
Yes, I know what you mean. I know this priest is a good, sincere man and I concede he’s much more spiritually mature than I am. Yet, this article put me off.
You are far more kind than I. Anyone who thinks an Alzheimer’s victim is “childlike” is contemptible in my view. While an infant will foul themselves with their own body waste they will eventually progress and stop doing it.
That doesn’t happen with Alzheimer’s. It just gets worse and worse. Even an infant can recognize it’s mother and father. That doesn’t happen with Alzheimer’s either.
My wife and I have an arrangement. If either of us is stricken with this monstrous disease, well....neither one of us is going to die like that.
And anyone who tells us that is wrong can kiss our asses.
Last night at the evening prayer meeting, the teaching was about the season of fall, when the trees begin to change their leaf color, the days are getting shorter, the nights get longer, and a sense of going “inside” my self, to the very depths of my soul.
These past 4 months, with health issues, the sudden passing of my longtime SO/boyfriend of a number of years, and an aging mother has truly brought home to me that NOW I must really get to KNOW Jesus, God.
Even once this major election is over, the focus on the getting to know God will increase even more.
I am very THANKFUL for my faith in the Lord God.
These last couple of months have been very difficult for me and with the fall season, we are reminded that this world is not our true home. Heaven is.
Please see post number 10. Thank-you!
Reality is wasted on the obtuse.
Sister in Christ, I more and more long to leave this earth. I pray for Joy and for a long time I have not had any. I am unequally yoked with an unbeliever for the last 25 years. Yesterday he was at his worst. How I regret being deceived at such a young and innocent age into marrying him. It’s like beating your head against a wall trying to live with a self centered egomaniac like him. He behaves as if he is god with no higher authority than himself, unable to say he is sorry. He was “nicer” today of course, but can’t say he’s sorry because he is not ever sorry or to blame. This is why divorce is available to us. It is more and more looking like my only way out. His heart is so hardended and any seed of The Spirit he had has been in the dark for 40 years. My seed is growing stronger and the devil doesn’t like that and is wreaking havoc on my life and using my husband to torture my faith. He will not win. Christ has already won the battle for me.
(hugs for listening)
I just saw your post 10 and I am so sorry for your loss.
You can be comforted knowing that the 2 of you had real love for one another. That is a rare and special gift. What I wouldn’t give to have good memories as you have.
Peace and Healing Prayers