Matthew 24:42 Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
Most people in the secular world—and many believers as well—are afraid of death. Certainly a good deal of money is spent in first world countries in an attempt to live longer and put off the inevitable. In the past, some people even experimented with cryogenics so that they could be frozen in the instant after (or even before) death and thawed out once a cure was discovered for whatever had killed them. There is always a buck to be made off people’s desire to avoid death.
I recently watched a series of short videos by Jeff Cavins on the Rabbi-Disciple Relationship*. In the last video of the series, Cavins quotes Archbishop Fulton Sheen as saying that the reason we’re so afraid of dying is that “we have not practiced for it.” It is not difficult to picture Archbishop Sheen saying that, with his characteristic twinkle. But what did he mean?
“Disciples of Christ die differently,” Cavins says. He goes on to explain that we practice for death by mortifying our flesh, by dying daily to self. This is worth pondering, because if we want to die differently we have to live differently.
Certainly the Rule of 1221 is one tried and true method of living differently. In living the rule, we practice dying daily. How awful that sounds to the untrained ear! The one who is afraid of death cannot fathom the beauty of dying daily. But there is no more beautiful way to live and to die.
St. Louis-Marie de Montfort confirms this in True Devotion to Mary:
“In order to rid ourselves of self, we must die to ourselves daily. This is to say, we must renounce the operation of the powers of our soul, and the senses of our body. We must see as if we saw not, understand as if we understood not and make use of all the things of this world as if we made no use of them at all….If we do not die to ourselves, and if the holiest devotions do not incline us to the necessary and useful death, we shall bring forth no fruit worth anything and our devotion will become useless.” [True Devotion, No. 81, 82]
By dying daily to self, we ensure a seamless transition into eternity. If we spend our earthly life with the attitude that our body is the servant of our soul, our whole “self” will be in a right and well-ordered relationship. If, on the other hand, we place the needs of the body above the needs of the soul, death will be painful and wrenching because the “self” will have died in a disordered way.
If we practice for it, our death will not be fearful because in our daily dying to self, we learn to live for Jesus. And if we live for Jesus, we will also die for him. If our life is all about him, it follows that our death will also be all about him.
Advent is a time to reflect on eternity. The readings are full of portents, warnings, and signs. They direct our focus away from the littleness of our lives to the grand symphony of Divine Providence. Penitents should embrace this season of preparation as Christ embraced the cross. It is a great gift to us and to the world and allows us to assist Mary and Joseph in preparing a place for Jesus to come once again to earth. As we embrace our penitential mission, our hearts will be filled with wonder and expectation as we await with joyful hope the coming of our Savior in time, at the time of our death, and at the end of time.
May this blessed season of preparation lead us all to a holy observance of Christmas. May God bless you all.