This has been a painful week for my family. We buried our youngest sister after a few months of indescribable pain. Our Lenten journey was folded into watching the intrepid advance of a lacerating, insufferable cancer which ultimately took her from us as we felt her breath drawn into the ether of Somewhere.
As most of you know and have experienced, one has no control over death. It does its work as you pray and sometimes plead for peace or healing at this dreadful time. You soothe the brow, moisten the lips, and whisper encouragement to the person dying and all-the-while you feel you are dying a little yourself. Little-by-little something of you is leaving with your loved one.
The room becomes eerily silent as death takes over. You can have a crowd of persons there at the moment of death and yet the room is silent except for the gurgling of the tubing and the pulse of the pump laboring to give and take air from failing lungs. And then it is complete! The life. The death process. Death has won the confrontation.
Or, has it? Death in this life, yes. But birth into a new life that will never die now takes over. As my sister neared her end, I felt a presence I can’t explain. Like so many others I have seen die, she reached out, opened her eyes a little, and fell, I believe, into the arms of her Creator.
The very thoughtful theologian, Karl Rahner, SJ., has left us wonderful writing on what death means for persons of faith. Here are some ‘Truths,’ as he suggests, that might make your Lenten prayer more meaningful and your meditation more fruitful. They help me now in my prayer.
- “Death is incomprehensible.” Do not try to figure it out though you can learn from credible theologians some of its theology. It is more important to let your faith guide you.
- “The closer one approaches to God, the more one’s individuality is liberated and fortified.”
- “Christian death is an act of faith.”
- “Death is the end of death itself.” The person who dies will never die again.
- “We shall see one another again…human relationships in this world continue in heaven.”
The Content of Faith by Karl Rahner, 1992, Crossroad Publishing.
All our deceased loved ones have been liberated and fortified as Rahner says. Those left behind now need healing. As you wander deeper into the spirituality of Lent, try to reflect on the meaning of your life as a witness of joy serving others and loving the Jesus of Accompaniment who is walking with you. Make it a point to pray and meditate every day on the gift of life that you possess. Take sections of Luke’s Gospel, which is the Gospel for this year’s Lenten liturgies, and let it permeate your reflections and thus move you to action with Jesus on behalf of others.
What were you able to do when you suffered loss? What helped you spiritually that might help others as well?
Do you happily search for meaning as you reflect on life and the reality of death, your death?
Are there any joys that came to you following the death of someone – even years after their departure? Do you believe the departed had any hand in the good you have experienced?
I hope some of you will share your inspiring thoughts…