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In the Shadow of Death, Hope

In the Shadow of Death, Hope

All Souls’ Day, or the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, which the Church celebrates on November 2, is an opportunity to commend our loved ones to God.

We present “those who have died in the peace of your Christ and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known” (Eucharistic Prayer IV). We thank God for their lives and pray that they may enter into the fullness of his presence.

But because this day raises a subject we often try to avoid, we can also take it as an invitation to reflect on the fact that each of us will face the cold reality of death one day. It makes no difference where we live, how wealthy we are, or how much influence we have. Every one of us is destined to die. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that the thought of death makes us at least a little uncomfortable, if not downright scared.

God Is With Us.

It’s natural to fear death. It’s normal to fear the unknown and to avoid thoughts of what it will be like to die. But these fears don’t have to overwhelm us or rob us of hope. The God who is always with us reaches out to us in a special way when we come to our final days. He knows our fears and worries, and he wants to comfort us in death, just as he wants to comfort us in life.

Think about the story of the “good thief” in Luke’s Gospel. Hanging on a cross next to Jesus, this man made a simple plea: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Most everyone else was mocking Jesus. But this man, sinful though he was, reached out to Jesus and asked for his help. How did Jesus respond? Simply, humbly, and lovingly: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Here, at the end, when the man needed it the most, he found comfort and strength, forgiveness and peace in Jesus. The promise of heaven held out to him by a loving Savior was all he needed to close his eyes in peace.

Jesus heard this repentant thief, and he answered his call. It’s possible that this man didn’t have any faith for most of his life, or that he was especially sinful. Jesus came to his aid anyway. Likewise, Jesus is with each of us—whatever our past has been like—when our end comes. He wants to speak words of promise and hope to us. He wants to grasp each of us by the hand, look into our eyes, and tell us that he has not abandoned us.

The Promise of the Resurrection.

And the greatest gift he wants to give us is something we profess at every Mass: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.” These words are filled with promise for us because we have been baptized into Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Because Jesus died for all of us, we can be free from sin, both now and when we face judgment. When Jesus rose, he overcame death not just for himself, but for everyone.

This is great news! Our lives, with all of our weaknesses and sins, with all of our fears and shame, can be transformed into incredible beauty as we are united with the Lord. The “corruptible” of our sin can be raised “incorruptible” in Christ. What is “dishonorable” in our lives can be healed as we are made “glorious” by his divine power (1 Corinthians 15:42-43). Every enemy—even death itself—has been destroyed because of Christ (15:26).

Take a few moments right now to close your eyes. Let your imagination go, as you try to picture heaven. There is no sickness there, no sin, no suffering, and no war. Imagine what it will be like when you stand before God. Remember that he knows all your sins, far more than you do, yet he still longs to wash you clean and hold you close. What is the expression on his face? What do his eyes look like?

If we spend time pondering the passages that speak about the joy of everlasting life, the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to the truth about heaven. If we ask the Holy Spirit to fill our imaginations with the beauty of being with Jesus, we’ll see that heaven isn’t an empty theory, but the promise of a faithful, trustworthy God. We will see that the story of the resurrection is not just a man-made teaching conjured up to deal with the very natural fear of death, but the greatest fulfillment of Jesus’ vow that he will be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28:20).

Heavenly Preparations.

Throughout our lives, we make all kinds of plans: Where should I live? What kind of job should I try to get? Should I get married? If so, to whom? Just as we have done in preparing for different phases of life, so in preparing for our death, it is also important to make plans and prepare ourselves. That way, the fear of the unknown can slowly be melted away.

Most of us aren’t facing death right now, but some of us are. But whatever phase of life we are in, one thing is certain: None of us knows when Jesus will call us to his side. That’s why it’s important for us to make sure there are no obstacles in our relationship with Jesus. The following recommendations will help make us ready for our final days, whenever they arrive.

First, it’s crucial that we pray. Simply spending time with Jesus and asking him to give us his peace and his comfort is by far the most powerful way to face death and not be afraid. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray the Psalms, especially those that rejoice in God’s presence and glory (Psalms 16 or 73) or speak of the joy of being with the Lord (Psalms 23 or 91).

Second, let’s make sure we’re in a right relationship with God. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we have the opportunity to purify our hearts, and to keep them clean as we ask his Spirit to help us obey his commands.

Third, let’s commit ourselves to restoring any broken or wounded relationships. Even if it means going out of our way to speak words of repentance, forgiveness, and blessing, we will find ourselves much more peaceful and ready when our time comes.

Fourth, let’s be sure we leave a legacy of love, compassion, and joy. We may or may not have riches to leave to our families. We may or may not have made new discoveries at work or done anything of major importance in the world’s eyes. But a smile, an embrace, or simple words of affection and appreciation can still have a powerful effect. A final testament to family members, farewell letters to close friends, and parting gifts to the poor have the power to build bridges between this life and the next.

Whether it’s in the presence of friends and family, in the words of Scripture, or in the beauty and simplicity of nature, Jesus wants to be especially close to us when we make our final journey. He wants to renew his promises to us and bring them to life in a new way. Most importantly, he wants us to draw close to him so that he can draw us close to his heart and bring us at last into his kingdom, where every tear will be wiped away.

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