Praying Mentis

A Laymen's Journey into the Catholic faith.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hope in Death Part 3

On the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the visiting priest at my parish asked me to think of ways that Mary had intervened during the past few years in my life. I came to the powerful realization that Mary has helped me very recently. I should, now that I think more about it, thank that priest for personally helping me to see Mary.

There is an unwritten and for some reason mostly unspoken rule of thumb in the spiritual world. If you pray with someone you will be closer to them. It's a very brief and to-the-point rule. Every time you go to God who is entirely Love, you pull down a piece of Him with you.

I would like to share one last piece of my Dad's death with you. When I got the call I raced down south from Northern Washington State. All I knew was my Dad was dying. It was serious. All I could think to myself was, God please let my Dad live long enough to receive last rites from a priest and for me to visit him one last time. 

Long story short I made it to the hospital. And waited for hours. Let me tell you this, there are two ways this story could have ended.

1.) No one prayed. We all sat and let our minds wander about how much we hoped our Dad didn't die. And then we would talk about video games, jobs, typical day stuff.  (This situation almost happened.)

2.) The opposite. Would the first option really be worthy to be called a "beautiful of death?"

Here is what happened. My family began talking about normal things. Then Lizzie, my fiance, helped me to start a rosary with my family. I could barely say the words. "...Holy Mary pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen." I thought to myself: 'How many times have I said those words with no meaning, only now to hope so much in them?'

My Brother Sam then lead us in a Divine Mercy Chaplet. My family never prayed together, and now they were being led by my youngest brother, the shiest person I know, in a sung version of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Before we started I told my Brother, "Hey, Sam, keep it on the down low ok? Remember we're in a hospital." Then I realized as I was starting that there was no reason for him to keep quiet. And so Sam sang the Divine Mercy Chaplet with his beautiful voice which he attests is now officially better than Josh Groban's. (I believe him too... I mean if I could go to one mass with him and have someone not compliment his voice)

Anyways, I digress. I have told many people how Matthew, a firefighter-in-training friend, was at my brothers' house when my Dad had his initial heart failure. He performed CPR on my dad, which helped him live a little longer, just enough for everyone to see him again. I wanted to let those who thought to themselves, ok... so... your Dad lived just to die. That's no miracle--- know that it was.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:


The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: "From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord";588 to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us "at the hour of our death" in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.

The small things really help put things into perspective. We prayed to Mary and Matthew a trained firefighter just so happened to be spending the weekend at my brothers. This allowed my Dad to not have an unforeseen death. I would say it was the most beautiful death anyone could ask for in fact. If I could have Sam sing a divine mercy chaplet on my death bed, and know that my family was brought together in prayer from the process I would die a happy man.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hope in Death part 2

While 'death' is an interesting topic in itself which I plan to write more about, the main reason I write this post is because early in the morning on June 14th, my Father died at the age of 63. Everything I believed in was shaken. (Please, do not offer condolences) To be honest, I was mad at God. Even though I don't care to admit it, I blamed God often in the months following my dad's death, and wasn't able to crush that anger until recently. I felt as though I had become a different person, someone who was hopeless and despondent. Several questions plagued my mind:

Why would a perfectly just, loving merciful God take someone away before they can say good-bye? Why would a perfectly just God let someone suffer so much and not act? Why would a perfectly loving God give no assurance that your loved one is alive and well in the afterlife, knowing full well the grief it causes?

And why would a loving God kill my dad when I was getting married in less than a year, and my brother was going to have his baby a month later?

I am writing this because I want to help those who go through these same emotions, the same emotions I experienced. Although these answers may not be the same for everyone, these are the things I experienced after the death of my dad:

You can call me crazy, but nearly all of my siblings had dreams of my Father saying goodbye and that he was well even though he wished he could stay. Almost identical every time. You can think whatever you want, but it happened... and strangely enough a barber I talked with two months before my Dad died had shared with me that the same thing happened to his family.

Not only that, but the night my Dad suffered a second heart attack he said he saw people in white in the room with him. He was almost sure they were angels so he started trying to ask what the people were doing to methodically figure out which ones were there and which weren't. Most people in hospitals wear scrubs, not white. Anyways, he said he saw the room begin to disappear like the matrix and it was Godlike.

So why does God let people suffer? I think the answer might be that evil exists and is real, partially because we let it exist. We actively participate in the spreading of evil by not spreading good. It was man that started the progression of sin.

I've met some genuinely amazing people throughout my life, and they've all taught me something very similar. We are meant for much more than we give ourselves credit. We are not meant to sit ideally by as the world turns to sin; we are supposed to act! Preaching fully convinced that the word of God is real-- that Jesus is behind our backs and in our hearts.

As to why God takes people at times that make it difficult to accept, I think the answer to that question is simply that there is a time and place for every thing in this world. We may not understand it now, it may be uncormfortable but as a wise theologian says, (I honestly don't remember who said this) God does not want what is comfortable for us, he wants for us to be holy, like He Himself is holy. Every moment is an opportunity for good or evil, and God puts us in the circumstances where we can do the best. In the end we will all die, and that day, we will be transformed.

"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance... God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. I recognized that there is nothing better than to rejoice and to do well during life." 
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-4, 11-12)

Friday, August 17, 2012

On Hope in Death Part 1

I was not originally going to make this post. Why? Because, who in their right mind writes about death, especially when it is such a sensitive topic to everyone? But then again, why wouldn't a Catholic write about death? I've read countless other blogs that proclaim the message "carpe diem", seize the day, live for the moment... But what does that really mean? And so, thus begins my first trilogy--on death!

My question is this: Why have fear in death when you can have hope in death instead? This would be like opting for the treasure chest by itself instead of the treasure inside of it. You can truly live when you hope in death.

Society's view of death is a message of escape-- by living in the moment and never missing out on an "opportunity". There's this idea that there are constantly fleeting moments that you have to take advantage of by taking risks and embracing pleasure -- these magical moments that can be taken away from you. By death. But what do you actually lose when you die? When you're a Catholic the question becomes, 'What do I gain from death?'

The past few weeks I have been reading St. Paul, who writes about his hope in death:

"...We were utterly weighed down beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, we had accepted within ourselves the sentence of death, that we might trust not in ourselves but in God.  Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead..." (2 Co 1:8–9)

St. Paul writes that death is not a bad thing, it is God's instrument of hope, and even trust. We have to trust in God's mercy when we die, and the promise of a life in heaven after we die can give us unimaginable hope when we actually embrace God's promise. Likewise, when our loved  ones die we have to hope they are in God's kingdom -- that they are happier than we had ever seen them during their lives on earth. 

St. Paul continues:"...Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. 9 Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil..." (2 Co 5:8–10). 

We cannot fear death as Catholics. God calls us throughout our lives to walk with him, and death actually puts us literally, by His side. Death brings us to our long awaited home and to our loving Father. This is what the Catholic Church has taught since its beginning during the time of the early Church fathers, and many of the saints write on the subject as well:

"...For God has called man and still calls him so that with his entire being he might be joined to Him in an endless sharing of a divine life beyond all corruption..." (Gaudium Et Spes)

St. Ignatius of Antioch writes in his letters while the Church is being persecuted: "For though I am alive while I write to you, I am eager to die." St. Dominic writes about how he will be more useful to others in death, "Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life." Perhaps the reason for this is because often, we can do more in death than life. St. Teresa wrote,"I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth."
Some, actually now that I think about it-- many considering how long I have talked about this, have called me fatalistic. I am not saying, go forth and die ye now because then ye will finally be with God. I am saying do not  fear death. If you do fear death, then fear death because it puts an end to your ability to love those around you by being physically present in the world. Even so, let me say this, this world is spiritual and physical. Scott Hahn said in his book, "Signs of life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots" that our  salvation is very much so spiritual  and unseen. But the Catholic Church is the physical manifestation of that. I say this because I want all Catholic to believe that death is not the end for us. Eighty years out of  an eternity is still only eighty years. And although the spiritual reality of our salvation and those who have perished before us is hidden, it's still there. 

In conclusion, I don't have a problem with idea of living in the moment. I have a problem with this idea that we are constantly escaping a fleeting moment, and so we need to do as much as we can before we die with the hidden emphasis of to enrich our lives and those around us with positive memories. There is one question that we will ask ourselves on our death bed... It is not, did I live enough? Did I get to go wild in my youth? Did I get to see all the places I wanted to see? It is the same question God himself will ask us, "Did you love those around you the same way I have loved you?"  The question will be how much did you die to those around you. So I guess I would not have a beef with the motto,  "we should live for the moment" if there was a conjunction that said by dying and sacrificing for those around us. This is what we should be focusing on everyday, and everything else comes as a fruitful by product of living with that as your upmost priority. Love with all of your heart, give to the best of your ability as much as you can, die to yourself, because all other regrets will unquestionably be forgotten.  I will end with this quote by Saint Paul:

"But if Christ is preached as raised form the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is not resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, the empty too is our preaching; empty, to, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sings. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,but each one in proper order: Christ the first fruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death,  for “he subjected everything under his feet...” (1 Corinthians 12-27)