Death wish

John Boswell, a great writer in the 1700’s famously said, “To know one will die in a fortnight marvellously clarifies the mind.”  Looking at death can clarify our thinking about life.  What is life about?  What is essential?  Where is God in my life and my death?

When I worked as a chaplain in a Catholic hospital, I met many people who regularly said a prayer called the Rosary, where they ask Mary to “pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death.”  At first I thought that was a very morbid prayer;  it’s a prayer that is said many many times, and I wondered how helpful it is to be thinking about the hour of your death all the time.  But after seeing that prayer at work in the lives of many faithful people, I’ve changed my mind.

I remember being with an elderly woman who was dying; we were waiting for her family to arrive, but she was fading fast. In fact, she died before her family got there.    I had a chance later to talk to the daughter as she sat with the body of her mother.  She felt so sad that she had not been there, and that her mother had died “alone”.  I asked her whether her mother had said the Rosary. “Yes, she said that every day.”  “Well, your mother prayed every day, thinking about the hour of her death…and this was it…this was the hour of her death.  I know God was here with her in that hour.”   This was something the daughter could hold onto…her mother had prepared well for the hour of her death.

This week is Eternity Sunday, the day we remember people who have died.  How do we prepare for death? What kind of death do you wish for?  How does thinking about death change the way we live now?

This week’s prayer:  In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

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