A Happy Death

This past week we celebrated the Feast Day of St Joseph.  St Joseph, is considered to be a great intercessor for Christians, especially in the area of a “happy death”.  I wanted to deepen my relationship with St Joseph this year, so I attempted to do the 9-day Novena and ask for his help on a few important things. Unfortunately, I am challenged in the novena department, and failed to remember to check in with St Joseph every day. I would start again, do two in a row,  back it up, stack them….to no avail.  Then, on his feast day, March 19, what some Catholics consider to be the real “Father’s Day”, I made a decision.  As prayer requests from friends and emails were pouring in, I decided I would start at noon and do a nine-hour novena to this humble, obedient man who took such good care of Jesus and Mary.  I started at noon and put my alarm on my phone for every hour.  Many of those hours I was driving so I would listen to the podcasts from “Pray More Novenas” as I drove.  I gathered up all the people who had emailed or texted asking for prayers, plus some of my usual intentions, and of course, my husband (because I mean, come on, it’s St Joseph.) As I listened to Relevant Radio‘s Drew Mariani show (#53) that day, all of these miraculous stories came over the airwaves of people who had great relationships and answered prayers and miracles with the help of St Joseph’s intercession.  One thing that struck to me in the course of my nine-hour novena, were the words from the prayer “a happy death”.  In my heart, I wondered what a happy death looked like and even spiritually posed the question as I prayed.  I feel like I got a miraculous answer the next day when I met a dear friend for lunch.  She related this story of her own.

A friend from another state came to visit back in the fall and did not seem herself.  She was confused and experiencing other symptoms.  She went to the doctor when she returned home and blood work revealed a devastating diagnosis.  She had a blood disease and her prognosis was only a few months left to live.  She and her husband had been very active and vibrant members of their church community.  They had a big family and many friends.  To watch her decline, and finally be told there was nothing left that medicine could, was heartbreaking.  Hospice was called in, and the family spent the next three or four days around her bed, spending their last moments together, reminiscing and laughing, crying and giving thanks for the life that they had shared together.  Every day a priest would stop by and visit her, but on the last day she asked for the “last rites”; the final sacrament of her journey on this earth.  She confessed her sins, received anointing with oils, and took communion, one final time.  She then called in her family.  She was bright, alert and coherent.  She said to her family, “I have made peace with each of you.  I have made peace with God.” Then she closed her eyes and passed away.

What Constitutes A Happy Death?

One element of a “happy death” seems to be time. As opposed to an accidental form of death, some that believe a diagnosed illness can be a blessing in the way that you know you have the time to set things right and make amends.  Many people became saints because they were falsely given a deadly prognosis, only to turn their lives around and serve God with a fervor like never before.

I once talked to a man who said that he knew he was dying and begged the Lord to give him a final assignment that could bring glory to God in the way that would allow Him to stand before the Lord with a pure heart, knowing he had done what he could.  As he knelt in prayer before the Eucharist, the Lord showed him a Holy Card image design to be drawn up and distributed.  Not only did this man live, but he went on to form a ministry around these holy cards to glorify God and lead others to consider the importance of spending their life for Him.

Repentance.  Not only do we have time to make things right with each other, but we have time to make things right with God, and this Sunday’s gospel directs us to do just that.

Gospel LK 13:1-9

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.'”
Reflections from the group
But I tell you, if you do not repent…
Twice Jesus reminds us in this gospel to repent.  Have you ever had anyone really hurt you and then just say “sorry” because they knew they should?  How did that feel?  God’s love for us is exponential and unlike anything we can imagine.  So too, should our repentance be when we offend God.  To repent is to be sorry.  Anyone can say they are sorry.  So what is it to really repent?  I looked up synonyms I was lead to “bemoan”, which I followed to many words that really seemed to depict what true repentance should look like: bewail, cry out, deplore, howl, cry, bleed…even “eat one’s heart out”.  Sound harsh? Is there a human response that is at all measurable to giving God’s only son, who was free of sin, die the most painful and humiliating death on a cross for the sins of others?
What is it to Bemoan?

I had a friend who told me that while he was driving once when he was younger, he was praying and happened to asked God to give him the grace to understand how God really felt about abortion.  He was forced to immediately pull his car over to the side of the road and heave and sob, and grieve unlike anything he had never experienced in his life.   It took him twenty minutes to physically recover from that one glimpse of “holy pain” but it was never forgotten and spoken of many times since.

We cannot measure God’s feelings by our human feelings, but a small glimpse of His grace tells much of the magnitude of His great love for His people.

Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
So often in the news and on social media we hear of a celebrity who has made a mistake.  Hour long news specials, three episode documentaries and 7 page articles in magazines, going in to grave detail about the situations of these criminals.  It’s horrible to watch the world crucify every famous person’s mistakes before the crowds as though the rest of us were perfect.  It would be a horrible thing to wear our scarlet letters for all to see, but the rest of us hide behind our phones and computers throwing out our two cents while these people’s lives are roasted on a spit.
Jesus reminds us not to even start looking at other’s sins, rather to look at the disposition of our own hearts.  The only direction we need to go with that is to truly examine ourselves at the end of each day and comb through our acts and feelings. We give God the good, bad and ugly, and making some kind of an act of reparation for the mistakes, and a simple plan of how to avoid doing the same mistake the next day.  Along with an act of contrition (prayer to say we are sorry, even Psalm 51 works fine) helps us sleep a little better at night.
Sir, leave it for this year also…
Jesus is always interceding for us before the Father.  We are given chance after chance to use our lives to bear fruit for God.  We get mislead, diverted, and busy.  Time is precious and borrowed; not our own.  One of our group said she takes a look at the fruits of the Holy Spirit and begins her day asking God to ripen each fruit that her day will please Him.

 charity, generosity, joy, gentleness, peace, faithfulness, patience, modesty, kindness, self-control, goodness, chastity

“Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:17-20)
Virtue:  Hope; Justice (to give God is what is due to Him and our neighbor), and Devotion to Duty, Reverence
How I will pray: Although we didn’t come up with a resolution (we spent the rest of our meeting discussing fruits of the Family Convention that was last weekend), I too, will pray on the fruits of the Holy Spirit each day asking God to make them ripen in my life.
How I will act:  Make an effort to get to confession in the next two weeks, so my heart is prepared for the Resurrection at Easter.

3 thoughts on “A Happy Death

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