“How are you going to die?” A morbid question, and one which few would want to answer. Surely we can’t know how we are going to die. There is, of course, what many would consider the ideal scenario: passing peacefully, surrounded by loved ones, at the end of a long life well-lived. There is also the alternative: a swift, sudden death as a result of a freak accident, cutting a promising life short. And in between, there is no shortage of alternatives.
“How are you going to die?” It would be foolish to attempt to predict the circumstances of our own death. Surely St. Maria Goretti, whose feast we celebrate today, didn’t know she would be murdered at the age of 11, dying to protect her virginity. Neither did St. Joan of Arc know she would be burned at the stake. The circumstances are unpredictable, and yet we must consider how we are going to die.
“How are you going to die?” A question often unconsidered by hospital patients until they are faced with the prospect. Or worse, a question not dealt with because of fear, and not answered until it is too late. Death marks the end of our life on earth, the second when our earthly tale ceases to be told. Once we depart this world, we no longer have recourse to repentance. Until we depart from this world, we always have recourse to repentance, through the sacraments of Holy Mother Church.
“How are you going to die?” The best answer to this question is simple: with the mercy of God, found in the sacraments. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to die in old age, with a priest available to provide the sacraments: Confession, Anointing of the Sick, and Viaticum. Perhaps, however, death will come more suddenly. It is possible, even when death is unexpected, to die with the sacraments. Regular confession is available, inconvenient though it may be on a Saturday afternoon. The Eucharist is available daily—perhaps tomorrow’s Communion is your Viaticum. With eternity hanging in the balance, why wait until we think death is near?
“How are you going to die?” We may not know the answer to this question as far as the circumstances are concerned, but we can pray to God now that when the time comes, we die in his grace, with the sacraments of His Church. As St. Joan of Arc said, “If I am not in the state of grace, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.” We, as Catholics, have the notion of a Happy Death, dying in the good graces of Our Lord and Savior. For us, considering how we are going to die should not cause fear and trembling, but rather evoke confidence in the loving mercy of Our Father, bestowed on us first on the Cross, and continually in the Church and her sacraments. And when the time comes for us to pass from this life, may we do so with God’s mercy to carry us to our eternal home.
Image: Dutch School, Last Rites