20 January 2008

How Will I Face Death?

This isn't a question I devote enough time to, and, when I do, it tends to drift off into a fantasy of the death of a Victorian paterfamilias surrounded by his loved ones. And then I read two articles yesterday which stopped me in my tracks: Christopher Howse in the Telegraph and Pastor Iuventus in the Catholic Herald, to which I can't find a link.

Christopher Howse talks about finding himself, as he thought on the brink of death; the young priest talks about being with the dying.

The very last question in the Penny Catechism asks what you should do after your night prayers.

"After my night prayers I should observe due modesty in going to bed; occupy myself with thoughts of death; and endeavour to compose myself to rest at the foot of the cross, and give my last thoughts to my crucified Saviour."

I remember as a seven year old learning a new hymn at school: all I remember now is the first line "Dear St Joseph, Spouse of Mary" and the repeated last line "Teach, O teach us how to die!". As seven year olds we sang it with gusto: it has a memorable lively tune; but that's all I remember.

Learning how to die has gone out of fashion. But a couple of weeks before my father died, he told me that he remembered his lessons: he had been taught as a boy how a good Catholic should die, and had seen good Catholics die according to the teaching he had received. And so he embraced death as a gift from God, and God gave him a gift of being in his own home, having family around him saying the Rosary, and a priest to say the Commendation as he died; and God gave an Indian doctor who was present the gift of seeing that even the English sometimes know how to "do death".

(My father was the sort of literal-minded man whose examination of Conscience was based on the Ten Commandments and on "Have I clothed anyone who was naked?" "Have I visited anybody in prison?" etc. He thought the SVP was God's gift to him to allow him to do what Jesus wanted him to do.)

My death might not be imminent: but it might be. So might yours. Are we prepared?


Paulinus said...

"Remember, Christian soul, that thou hast this day a duty:
God to Glorify, Eternity to Prepare for, Jesus to Imitate, The Angels and Saints to invoke;
Your Soul to Save, Your Body to Mortify, Sins to Expiate, Virtues to Acquire, Hell to avoid, Heaven to Gain, Time to Profit by, Your neighbors to Edify, The World to Despise, Devils to Combat, Passions to Subdue, Death Perhaps to Encounter, and Judgment to Undergo."

Joe said...

Thank you for this great post. In case you're wondering, the first verse (there are 4 in total) and chorus of that lovely hymn are:

Dear St Joseph, pure and gentle,
Guardian of the Saviour Child;
Treading with the Virgin Mother
Egypt's desert, rough and wild.

Hail, St Joseph, Spouse of Mary
Blest above all saints on high,
When the death-shades round us gather
Teach, oh teach us how to die
Teach, oh teach us how to die.

As it happens, it was sung at Mass in the hospital chapel on the feast of St Joseph 10 years ago as my father (also named after St Joseph) lay dying. Some find the words morbid: my family and I find them an ideal recognition of the reality of Christian death.

Ttony said...

Paulinus: where does your exhortation come from?

Joe: many thanks. I sang the words out and I was seven again and in Miss Daly's class at de La Salle on Weaste Lane. My children thought I was ready for a yellow van. And thanks for not making a big deal out of my misremembering even the few bits I had remembered!

FrGregACCA said...

"My death might not be imminent: but it might be. So might yours. Are we prepared?"

As with the Parousia, let us make a distinction between imminence and temporal proximity. For Christians, both are always imminent even though temporal proximity cannot be determined.

Mac McLernon said...

Heheheheh... you've been TAGGED

Paulinus said...

I found it my father's old prayer book: The Treasury of The Sacred Heart (1928 - he was born in 1921 so I presume it was given to him for his First Holy Communion)

I have a copy over my desk. Handy in my line of work....