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Ars Moriendi: The Art of Dying

We are born to die. This inevitable fact could lead to fatalism, although, more often, we simply fall into denial. We avoid thinking about death and stigmatize it as the greatest evil. If this world is all we have, then death would be the greatest evil, although life itself would become futile, a temporary illusion — grasping pleasure as it slips through our fingers.

For a Christian, however, we are born to live. The inevitability of death remains even though it loses its terror. To be sure, it should stimulate some somber reflection on the purpose of life as a temporary sojourn, meant to lead us to our true and everlasting life in God. The Church encourages us to think about death and to prepare for it, even to the point of considering it an art.

One of the most popular books of the late Middle Ages, in fact, was Ars Moriendi, a book written by an anonymous Dominican friar on the art of dying. The National Catholic Bioethics Center has just released a new edition of The Art of Dying, with a masterful introduction and annotations by a contemporary friar, Brother Columba Thomas, a medical doctor. From his own experience, Brother Thomas points out that we are “frequently overwhelmed by the complexity of health care and miss the opportunity to prepare well for death” (3). We might spend our entire lives avoiding the thought of death and then, when it actually arrives, find ourselves unable to think about it at all.

For this reason, we need to return to the medieval wisdom which recognized that “the salvation of each person consists entirely in the preparation for death” (86). Approaching death as an art entails deliberate preparation throughout life to approach it as a spiritual reality. This will serve, Brother Thomas says, as a “corrective to the prevailing over-medicalized, technologically driven death” (3). Death is the crucial moment to offer oneself to God, the culminating moment of life that will cement our whole trajectory toward or away from God.

Read more at Catholic World Report

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