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And Death Is Gain: A Reflection on the Proper Christian Sense of Death

This is the third in a series of articles on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

Yesterday we pondered the fear of death and some understandable reasons for it, but we also considered how a lack of lively faith can lead to a fear of death that is unchristian. As St. Paul admonishes regarding death,

We do not want you to … grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep (1 Thess 4:13-14).

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. 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).

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 that 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. “God, please give me better health, a better marriage, more money, a promotion at work.” In other words, “Make this world an even better place for me and I’ll be perfectly content to stay right here.”

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) this longing.

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 unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

This prayer acknowledges in a 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—it 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.

Read more at the Archdiocese of Washington blog – http://blog.adw.org/2017/11/death-gain-reflection-proper-christian-sense-death/

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