The End Cometh
The end of the liturgical year approaches as our celebration of Christ the King is only days away. It is hard not to be looking beyond since much has been made of the soon to be implemented new translations of the Mass prayers. But the recent Mass readings about 90 year-old Eleazar’s heroic death, the mother of seven sons who were put to death before her eyes, and the parable of the talents in which we might all too easily identify with the fearful, lazy wicked servant each tells us to keep in mind the four last things before we begin Advent.
And for each of us, I am sure, there are recent deaths that keep the first of the last things ever present: for me, Dr. Carroll, Mr. Pretz, neighbor Pauline Cooksey, Grand-godmother (mother of my godmother) Lida Westhoff-Beauprez, Mildred White (mother of Leo, one of the original 26 at Christendom who was born on the same day as I) and Alberta Zittle (high school classmate of Mom).
I just received as a gift in the mail the letter of JPII simply titled “To the Elderly”. It contains some good thoughts on death that I am going to quote.
“It is natural that, as the years pass, we should increasingly consider our ‘twilight.’ If nothing else, we are reminded of it by the very fact that the ranks of our family members, friends and acquaintances grow ever thinner; we become aware of this in a number of ways, when for example we attend family reunions, gatherings of our childhood friends, classmates from school or former colleagues from the military or the seminary. The line separating life and death runs through our communities and moves inexorably nearer to each of us. If life is a pilgrimage toward our heavenly home, then old age is the most natural time to look toward the threshold of eternity.
“And yet, even we elderly people find it hard to resign ourselves to the prospect of making this passage. In our human condition touched by sin, death presents a certain dark side which cannot but bring sadness and fear.
“However rationally comprehensible death may be from a biological standpoint, it is not possible to experience it as something ‘natural.’ This would contradict man’s deepest instincts. As the Council observed: ‘It is in the face of death that the riddle of human existence becomes most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction.’ This anguish would indeed be inconsolable were death complete destruction, the end of everything. Death thus forces men and women to ask themselves fundamental questions about the meaning of life itself. What is on the other side of the shadowy wall of death? Does death represent the definitive end of life or does something lie beyond it?
“Christ, having crossed the threshold of death, has revealed the life which lies beyond this frontier, in that uncharted ‘territory’ which is eternity. He is the first witness of eternal life; in him human hope is shown to be filled with immortality.
“Faith thus illuminates the mystery of death and brings serenity to old age, now no longer considered and lived passively as the expectation of a calamity but rather as a promise-filled approach to the goal of full maturity. These are years to be lived with a sense of trusting abandonment into the hands of God, our provident and merciful Father.”
Jezu, ufam Tobie.