Editor’s Note: This is the second column in a series on dying.
A few years ago, a friend told me that he wasn’t afraid of death. I was pretty impressed until he told me that he was just afraid of dying. I had to laugh.
Perhaps, though, he’s like most of us. The thought of being dead does not bother us too much, but the dying process provokes a few nerves. It is similar to the person who likes to go to foreign places, but who hates to travel. It is the intermediate process that has many of us unsettled. What are we to do with such anxiety and concern?
Obviously, the dying process is our most extreme time of transition. We move from one well-known stage of life to a veiled, mysterious one. It is a time of understandable difficulty, of questions to our faith, sometimes of great pain, and a suffering of the heart as earthly farewells have to be given.
In the midst of this internal wrestling, we are reminded of our identity in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul teaches us that in life and in death, we are the Lord’s.
In the dying process, our Christian discipleship receives an abundance of grace, and Mary draws close, as we have prayed throughout our lives: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
Our discipleship, with all its triumphs and failures throughout our lives, does not end in the dying process, but is empowered and intensified.
We are called to cling to the Lord Jesus, truly risen from the dead, and give him all the fears and struggles of our passing.
In the dying process, we realize that we are not alone. Jesus, our good shepherd, is with us. We give the end of our earthly lives to him, praying: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
The Catholic Church encourages us in this radical act of faith. It offers us the sacramental presence of Jesus, and echoes to all believers in every age the summons to die well in the Lord.
In this solemn responsibility, the church accompanies us and gives us compassionate and attentive teachings to the various medical procedures and questions surrounding the dying process. Whether it is the use of breathing tubes, the continuation of nutrition and hydration, or pain negotiation and palliative care, the church offers us the teachings and consolation of Jesus Christ.
We are called to give our dying process, and all its decisions, to the Lord Jesus. It is our last earthly gift to so loving a Savior.
If we accept his extended hand, Jesus offers to shepherd us “even when [we] walk through a dark valley” so that we can truly “dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come” (Ps 23).
Father Kirby is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, currently in Rome studying moral theology.