And Death is Gain…A Reflection on the Christian View of Death

111214In the month of November, we remember the souls of the faithful departed and our obligation to pray for them. November and into the early part of Advent is also a part of the Church year during which we begin to ponder the last things: death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. In the northern hemisphere, the days grow shorter. In regions farther north, the once green trees and fields shed their lively green, and after the brief, golden gown of autumn, a kind of death overtakes the landscape. Life changes; we grow older, and one day we will die.

It is fitting at this time that we ponder the passing glory of things and set our gaze on Heaven, where joys will never end. There is a beautiful prayer in the Roman Missal that captures this disposition:

Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis, da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis, id disiderare quod promittis, ut, inter mundanas varietates, ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.

O God, who makes the minds of the faithful to be of one accord, grant to your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, among the changes of this world, our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are (21st Sunday of the year).

So here we are, well into November. Summer has passed and winter beckons. Ponder with me the fact that this world is passing. And I have a question to ask you:

How do you see death? Do you long to one day depart this life and go home to God? St. Paul wrote to the Philippians of his longing to leave this world and go to God. He was not suicidal; he just wanted to be with God:

Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit (Phil 1:20-23).

These days I am struck by the fact that almost no one speaks publicly of their longing to depart this life and be with God. I suspect it is because we live very comfortably, at least in the affluent West. Many of the daily hardships with which even our most recent ancestors struggled have been minimized or even eliminated. I suppose that when the struggles of this life are minimized, fewer people long to leave it and go to Heaven. They set their sights, hopes, and prayers on having things be better HERE. “O God, please give me better health, a better marriage, a financial blessing, a promotion at work, … ” In other words, “Make this world an even better place for me and I’ll be content to stay here, rather than longing to go to Heaven.”

Longing to be with God was more evident in the older prayers, many of which were written just a few generations ago. Consider, for example, the well known Salve Regina and note (especially in the words I have highlighted in bold) the longing to leave this world and be with God:

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope. To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To Thee do we send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, Thine Eyes of Mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show us the Blessed Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

The prayer acknowledges in a very realistic and sober way that life here can be very difficult. Rather than ask for deliverance from all of it, for this world is an exile after all, the prayer simply expresses a longing to go to Heaven and be worthy to see Jesus. It is this longing that I sense is somewhat absent in our modern world, even among regular Churchgoers.

When was the last time you meditated on Heaven? When was the last time you heard a sermon on Heaven? I understand that we all have a natural fear and aversion to dying. But for a Christian, there should be a deepening thirst for God that begins to erode the fear and aversion to death. St. Francis praised God for Sister bodily death which no one can escape (Canticum Fratris Solis). And why not praise God for it? It is what ultimately brings us home.

As for me, I will say it: I long to leave this world one day and go home and be with God. I am not suicidal and I love what I do here. But I can’t wait to be with God. I don’t mind getting older because it means I’m closer to home. Another day’s journey and I’m so glad because I’m one day closer to home! In our youth-centered culture, people (especially women) are encouraged to be anxious about getting older. As for me, when I hit forty, I said, “Hallelujah, I’m halfway home (err … as far as I know)!” Now at 53, I rejoice even more. I’m glad to be getting older. God has made me wiser and He is preparing me to meet Him. I can’t wait!

Story – A couple of years ago a woman here in the parish walked into a meeting a few minutes late. It was obvious that she had been rushing to get there, and she entered quite out-of-breath. No sooner had she entered, than she fell headlong on the ground. She had died instantly of a heart attack. She was dead before she hit the ground. We rushed to revive her, but to no avail. God had called Wynette unto Himself. I remember saying at her funeral, “For us it was one of the worst days of our life, but for Wynette it was the greatest day of her life.” God, for whom she longed, had drawn her to Himself. She had died hurrying to God’s house and you know I just had to quote the old spiritual that says, O Lord, I done what you told me to do … unto that morning when the Lord said, “Hurry!”

Even a necessary stopover in Purgatory cannot eclipse the joy of the day we die. There will surely be the suffering that precedes our death. But deep in our hearts, if we are believers, must ring forth the word, “Soon!” An old spiritual says, “Soon I will be done with the troubles of this world, going home to live with God.”

So I ask you again, do you long for heaven? Do you long to depart this world and be with God? You say, “Yes, but first let me raise my kids!” I know, but do you rejoice as the years tick by and the goal becomes closer? Do you long to be with God?

I close with the words of Psalm 27:

One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD … My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me.

As you listen to this Spiritual, consider the harsh conditions endured by the slaves who wrote:

22 Replies to “And Death is Gain…A Reflection on the Christian View of Death”

  1. Oh yes! I too long for the day of my parting from this temporary and
    burdensome life. Im only 44….In the meantime, I pray to find my soulmate.
    If God so wills it, to help me grow and get to Heaven. Because really,
    all that matters is protecting our souls.

    No one is perfect. We are all struggling in and through our journey home.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful meditation; you are right that we need to long more for our true home. It made me think of a phrase I once heard: “The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.” I guess I’m an optimist, because I love life! God has blessed me with so much — yes even the pains and hardships I consider blessings, because they have brought me closer to Jesus. Are we not called as Catholics to be optimists, filled with hope? I guess I have trouble balancing this with wanting to die! Lol. I often wish I could have an even better idea of what heaven will be like, and it would be easier.

  3. I have to say that I, my sister and several of our friends discuss dying on a regular basis. We usually have had a really bad day and wonder when the Lord is going to set us free and take us home. My sister and I go back and forth as I insist I get to go first, because I am older and she insists she gets to go first because she has born more suffering. Please. It should be in order of birth. 🙂
    Every Mass, I tell the Lord, if you take me now, it will be perfect. I am not suicidal either. I have been given a wee taste of heaven and I want more. I want to be in the Lord’s love now and forever.

  4. Hmmm i do not seek death but welcome it. On days when i am totally bogged by things of this world, i longed for purgatory (however painful it may be) cos it means for me, only time for God. And purgatory is the sure road to meeting our Lord face to face, in His time 🙂

  5. Death and the way one approaches same, possibly as mysterious as the human hearts – those who are purer in hearts ,likley to see it more as a part of the fulfillement of God’s eternal loving plan ;

    many who are used to the materialsitic culture might need the reminder and truth that heaven itself is not just a place but a state where in His all perfect will is recognised , chersihed and rejoiced in, to the fullest extent , in glory to glory ..

    Heaven as a place to be grabbed at one’s own will ( which is truly the enemy ‘s will and plan for them ! ) has clouded many hearts , as evidenced by the murder- suicide culture of abortion and all that is related to same , including unholy marital relationships in contraception, rebellion expressed as the plague of cancers and many such ailments , in body and mind – a slow death , in relationships with God and each other !

    Recognising what are the far reaching consequences of such choices , as manifested in the warning of Prophet Nathan , to David – ‘ the sword shall not depart you house ‘ , for the killing of Uriel , husband of Bathsheba …would it have been very difft., if David , instead , had chosen to send them both far away and thus embrace life, in repentance …

    And we are presented with a people , who , in name of the will of God ( Inshallah ! ) , embrace life , in fecundity ..and killings as well ..

    May the two edged sword of The Holy Spirit ,severe from us all and all in our lives , all selfish ambitions and envy , wisdom not of heaven but of the evil one , instead bestowing on us Godly wisdom , helping us to seek His holy will and presence , in purity of hearts , tasting bit of heaven even here , while also dying to what is selfish and unholy , helping others to do so too , in prayers of deliverance !

    Thank you esp. to all priests who uphold both death ( of Calvary ) and life of heaven, esp. at every
    Holy Mass and preparing us thus, for the eternal Banquet , of living in the Father’s pure , holy love – HIs will !

    Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death ; may her prayers, that encompass all of heaven, help us all to live and die , in the peace of HIs holy will , in mercy and gratitude for all debts forgiven !

    1. Only if you engage in all or nothing thinking. I think most normal people can appreciate the nuances distinctions and limits of an article like this. Yet you seem to want to absolutize it, why is this so?

  6. “These days I am struck by the fact that almost no one speaks publicly of their longing to depart this life and be with God. I suspect it is because we live very comfortably, at least in the affluent West. Many of the daily hardships with which even our most recent ancestors struggled have been minimized or even eliminated. I suppose that when the struggles of this life are minimized, fewer people long to leave it and go to Heaven. They set their sights, hopes, and prayers on having things be better HERE.”

    Hence the crisis in the Church. We have taken “such good care” of ourselves that in our pride we think ourselves “godlike”. If then, we are “gods”, what need have we of Heaven? Of Repentance? Of mercy?

    As we reflect back on the “Outer Bands” meditation, does it not appear the approaching storm may not be the big one, but the one designed to wake us from our drunken stupor?

    I believe in the Mercy of The Lord. Thank You, Jesus for always being with us. Thank You for Your Grace. Thank You for Hope. Thank You for Truth and Justice. Thank You for Your Love.


    St Teresa of Avila

  8. Yes, Monsignor this is healthy discussion. I tell my staff at work and my wife and children that when I die to the following. My children do not find that disturbing but I want to give them some direction to kinda fall back on at that time. And I always tell them to pray for my soul upon my death…. pray for my soul… and I ask my children while driving to one of their sports things ‘what their vision of heaven is’. I never tell them anything negative I just listen. It is comforting for us to make our feelings known to each other. Yes, I will pray for a happy death. I will keep St. Joseph close by.
    P,S. I also pray that the batting order, as I call it is solid. But that is another thing….

  9. Yes, Monsignor, I agree with you.

    Lately, it as become puzzling to me why people “battle” so hard against their terminal illnesses in order to spend a few more “moments” upon this earth when the absolute glory of God is awaiting them.

    I sincerely hope and pray if and when I am afflicted in the same way that I will choose to offer my sufferings unto Jesus and allow Him to guide me home without any kicking and screaming on my part.

  10. Thank you, Monsignor, for this reflection. Our citizenship is indeed in heaven.

    I was blessed to witness a parishioner, a woman, prepare for her death for about a year. She loved, dare I say loveS, the Lord and His Church. She was in such peace. It showed in her face. I pray that I can do likewise.

    “If I am not [in the state of grace], God put me there; if I am, please God so keep me.” -St. Joan of Arc

    1. Yes Fr. B…..But, P. & I had/have been preparing for our journey Home, for many years before! God bless you for helping her! I’m still waiting, & preparing……@ 73 &76, my husband & I are getting ready together. Like 2 tourists, Eager to get home! There’s a wealth of writings from the early Church to guide us & assure us that others have had similar issues. I too love my Church, more than life…..I have problems at times with those who should be leaders…..but……they’re God’s job!

  11. Those religious who suffer from mental illness, as I do, also long for Heaven. We suffer daily, even moment to moment, but know we must wait under God’s time even when the suffering is at its worse. We long for the time to be united with God.

  12. I feel very much the need to say my two-pennyworth to this superb meditation.
    I just so happens, that as you were writing this piece, Mgr Charles, I was celebrating my 69th birthday! I received many birthday greetings from dear Christian friends and non-believing friends as well.
    It was a joyous thing for me to be able to reply to each of them by saying that, having reached this point in my life relatively unscathed, as a result of my loving and merciful God’s goodness to me over the years, it was wonderful to think that I was now another year closer to ‘going home’ to be with my Lord and my God. In fact, the older I get the more I find myself burdened and dragged down by the things of this world. The Christian friends, of course, understand perfectly. The unbelievers find me at the very least bit weird and at worst, a bit of a nutter!!
    Praise God though that I can say, in all sincerity, ‘Come quickly Lord Jesus’, whether at the end of time, or more likely, the end of my life!
    I was re-writing my will only one month ago, and used a lawyer (we call them solicitors this side of the pond!) who had no knowledge of me or my deep faith, and I found it was a wonderful opportunity to witness for my Lord when he asked me how I could possibly ‘rejoice’ that I was to be leaving this life and all of of the ‘things’ most people held dear. I said, “Ah my friend, you see I am going home to be with the Lord God Almighty, where I shall be able to enjoy all those things which I ‘never’ had in this world – peace, true contentment and a love that passes all understanding – and none of it costs a penny!”
    I suggest you ‘shock’ your lawyer the next time you make a will! It may be his one chance to consider the things of Heaven and weigh them against the dross of this world. And you will have done your little bit towards further building the Kingdom of Heaven.
    God bless all and bring us all happily to His Kingdom!

      God bless you with an abundance of graces.
      May you persevere to the end. Which really
      is the beginning of your life…

      A sister in Christ -anna

    1. Jesus said: “Amen,Amen I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into condemnation, but has passed from death to life.”(John 5:24). Branch don’t despair; Jesus will keep his promises.

      1. Branch,
        The way I look at it is that this life proves who we “are” for all eternity. It’s all about defining ourselves for the coming judgement.

        God IS love. He does not want you to be in hell. He created you to be with Him forever.

        Therefor, this life is all about returning His love and being consumed with a passion for God and all of His creation. If you are a friend of Jesus, you will live as He lived, and love what He loved, and I guarantee you will find a friend at judgement.

  13. St. Paul in some of his letters includes the idea that departing from this life is like setting sail on a ship. Sometimes we sing “Eye has not seen, Ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love Him.”
    Nearing death seems a test of our faith.
    Do we really believe in the promises of Jesus? If we do, then our attitudes should reflect that. I am not talking about violent or avoidable death, but tremendous amounts of hospital & medical expenses are funded in the last month of life in our population.
    Sometimes it is a matter of the surviving family members having “unfinished business” with the dying aged parent.
    A matter to consider, prayerfully.

  14. i feel like Paul. i want to go back Home to my Abba, but if i must stay, dear Lord, help me be fruitful for Your sake, never mine. i rarely mention it to others because they assume i am suicidal-sigh. They assume the pain is finally wearing me down. They are wrong. If i must remain awhile here, then it can only help assure a place is set for me in Heaven. Each day is a blessing, a chance to atone and pray for others. if i lived to be 80, that is nothing, nothing held against eternal joy with our God.

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