Art Of Dying

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Sounds crazy? You  might have  heard of the Art of  Living,  a package claiming to be  designed for  happy living, but never about the   Art of Dying. Before introducing the Art of Dying to  you, I should  make one thing  clear. The  Art of Living is not for   Christians to follow. Unfortunately many Christians have fallen prey to this package. We call them  unfortunate because they lost their way to the Risen  Lord who only  can guarantee them peace and joy. It is a terrible mistake to forsake the fountain of living water   and go  to cracked cisterns without water. Jeremiah laments; ‘For my people have committed two evils: they have  forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out  cisterns  for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water’ (Jer. 2:13)

We, Christians do not need anything of that sort, because we  live by  the fountain of living water. We live through Christ, with Christ and in Christ who is the sole assurance of a  happy life in this world and beyond. A happy life   never  comes  through  certain postures or breathing exercises. It is possible only  by the grace of God.   We call it  the kingdom of God. “For the kingdom of  God is not food  and drink but righteousness and  peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 14:17). This is the only  real thing. Everything else is  just vanity. 

We do not have to be concerned much about  life, because we are taught  how to live our life in the christian way. If christian life is a  celebration in  Christ, christian death  should be a  celebration  of faith.  Unfortunately, something prevents  us from  making our death a  celebration in Christ. Here the  real issue is our ignorance  about  what is going to happen after death. This  fear of the  unknown  takes us to  higher levels of  anxiety and worry.

Everyday, we see death around us. In times of war and  pandemics the sheer number of deaths trouble our  mind greatly.  Death can occur at any time. As the old saying goes, death is an uninvited guest.  If there is a chance of some guests dropping in  quite unexpectedly, how would we  prepare for it? We will make sure that we have everything at home to receive a guest at any time. A clean house, some toiletries,  and reasonably  good food  will satisfy the guest. An unexpected guest is not a cause of celebration, you might argue. Then why not manage the situation with  a little  extra effort?

Art of  Dying is all about the ways of  managing  the unexpected guest called death. It is  about making  every death a celebration in Christ, an occasion of  joy, a testimony of peace and  an assurance of hope.

If  fear of death is the  fear of the unknown, then we should try to know  death from  the true perspective. Death is  not a full stop, not even a comma, but just another point in  the continuum called life. Remember the last words of our Saviour; “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). To make our death a celebration, we should also be able to say the same words at the  hour of our death.  Do not be sceptical  whether this is  possible for us. Our trust is in a God  for whom everything is possible.

Anybody who receives the true Body and Blood of  Jesus Christ is promised eternal life. For them  death means the  point where they stop  receiving the Lord  in Eucharist and start seeing him face to face. It is when we lose this hope  of an eternal life that fear starts to  grip us.   Never think of our God as someone who instills fear in us, every day, every time. He  is a God who  tells us ‘Do not fear’  not once, but  366 times in the Bible. Well, you got it. But some  might  ask, why this 366  and not  365? Why should the God  give us this promise for an  extra day? 

I was  also not  sure about the reason for  this  one extra day. Somehow, I  guessed that it would be for the leap year. And my  guess proved correct when,  after many years, I read about Richard Wumbrand, the Romanian Christian who was  tortured in a communist prison for fourteen years for confessing his christian faith. When he was  kidnapped by the police in 1944, he was smiling, and when the  officers asked him why he was smiling, he replied that  he had  a promise  from  his Master; ‘Do not fear’. He says that he realised  the  purpose of the promise for an extra day on the day  he was arrested. Because  it was  on 29th  of February  in a leap year!

Why should we fear? God guarantees  us freedom from fear  for all the days of the year,  taking special care to protect those who need  it in the rarest of rare occasions too!  When  Wumbrand was dragged into a police vehicle and  then taken to   the prison from where a  return was only a dream, when he came face to  face  with the prospects of being thrown into  prison, he had no idea about what  was awaiting  him. But  he found solace in the Lord’s promise, that  we should not fear.  If our fear  of death is the fear of the unknown, turn  to Jesus and his promise. Our  fear will vanish in no time.

In fact more than the fear  of facing  the unknown what troubles  us  it the fear of losing the  known. In simple terms we call it attachment to this world.  One who is too much involved in the affairs of this world,  who derives pleasure from worldly things, amasses wealth and  lives by the philosophy of hedonism, will naturally  fear the moment of death.  If your hope is in this world and this world alone,  what  do you have to look forward to  at the hour of your death? St Paul describes those people  whose hope in Christ is  only for this life as the most unfortunate. ‘If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied’  (1 Cori. 15:19).

It is sad that nowadays many Christians approach the  door of death without any hope in Christ.  It is our collective failure that our brothers and  sisters are  made to leave this world without any  hope in  the eternal  life promised by  Christ.  If you are a  baptised Christian, a peaceful death with steadfast hope  in Christ is  your  birthright.   It is not something to  be exchanged for   a few loaves of bread and   a cup of lentil stew – the pleasures of this  world – as  Esau did.  ‘So he swore to him (Jacob), and sold his birthright  to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose  and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright’ (Gen. 25:33-34).

We started with the  subject,’ the Art of Dying’. It is nothing but  dying in Christ. It is the natural culmination of a life in  Christ.  We will find  many around us who are  not prepared for their  death.  We should fear that  their numbers are far more than who have  done at least some preparations for their death.

Unlike Art of Living, the Art of Dying  does not contain difficult physical postures or breathing exercises. It is  rather simple. Be in a state of Grace at all times. Sacraments, especially those of  Confession and Holy  Communion, will help us in our   attempt  to be in a state of perfect Grace. And when the  hour of death approaches,  request for  the ‘anointing  of the sick’  from a priest. It will help us a lot  in our  final moments, when the  devil will try with all his power to distract our minds.  It can so happen that  even those who were good Christians  tend to  stray away from  faith in their final moments.  Please understand that  it is the handiwork  of devil. Sometimes they might  refuse to receive  the  anointing  of the sick. In their stubbornness before the parting moments, they might  exhibit symptoms of  rejecting Christ.  They  are afraid of  leaving what all they had amassed in this world. When the moment of reckoning comes, they realise their folly and  lament about the  futility of  their  life.

We should expect that  the final assault of the devil will be severe. As such,  preparation is a must to  endure this attack which manifests  itself  through five temptations. They are

1. The temptation to apostasy. We should pray for the virtue of faith and reaffirm our baptismal Faith

2. The temptation to despair over sins. We should pray for the virtue of hope in God’s forgiveness

3. The temptation to anger   and crossness at others. We should pray for the virtue of charity that will help us to be  patient

4. The temptation to prideful self-reliance.  We should pray for humility and total dependence on God

5. The temptation to cling to this life. We should  pray for detachment and abandonment to God’s will

    At the moment of temptation always  pray, “My Jesus, mercy! Mary, help!”

As for the living, it is their   duty to pray for the dying. It should be our mission to see that none of  our dear ones  leave this world without reconciling themselves with God.   Jesus  has revealed through  St Foustina that  prayer for divine mercy  is   a sure way to  help the dying.

‘O merciful Jesus, stretched on the cross, be mindful of the hour of our death. O

most merciful Heart of Jesus, opened with a lance, shelter me at the last moment of

my life. O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of

unfathomable mercy for me at the hour of my death, O dying Jesus, Hostage of

mercy, avert the Divine wrath at the hour of my death’ ( Diary No 813).

From the experience of  millions of  Christians –  it is my personal experience as well – I can assure you that praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet   for the dying always helps him/her  for a safe passage from this world to eternity. I have heard of many  people getting a happy death after somebody  prayed the  Divine Mercy Chaplet for them.   St Foustina writes:

‘When I entered my solitude, I heard these words: At the hour of their death, I defend

as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a

dying person, the indulgence is the same. When  this chaplet is said by the

bedside of a dying person, God’s anger is placated, unfathomable mercy envelops

the soul, and the very depths of My tender mercy are moved for the sake of the

sorrowful Passion of My Son’ (Diary No 811).

If we truly love others, we are bound to pray for them. Remember that praying for the living and the dead is a work of mercy. We should  persuade  the dying  for   receiving the  anointing of the sick.  It is   rightly called  Viaticum (food for the journey) without which the journey  to eternity would be difficult.

‘The angel of the God  came a second time, touched him ( Elijah), and said, “Get up and eat,  otherwise the journey will be too much  for you”. He got up, and ate and  drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days  and forty nights to  Horeb the mount of God’ (1 Kings 19:7:8). Elijah could not   have completed the  arduous journey to the  mount of God by his own. It was the  heavenly bread delivered through an angel from heaven that helped him reach the mount of God safely. We know that the  ‘cake baked on  hot stones’  which sustained Elijah  till he reached the  presence of  God was the  precursor of  the   bread of life which we receive in Holy Eucharist.

We need to  look at  death  through the eyes of faith and not through the lens of this world. St Padre Pio’s prayer  will help us for this, sufficiently before the   shades grow long and dusk falls.

‘It is getting late and death approaches, I fear the darkness, the temptations, the dryness, the cross, the sorrows. O how I need You, my Jesus, in this night of exile! Stay with me Lord, because at the hour of my death, I want to remain united to you, if not by Communion, at least by grace and love’.

St Francis of Assissi calls death his sister.  St Paul tells that  he preferred to die rather than continuing in  the body.  St Therese of Lisieux was  happy to  die because she treated this  life as a means to enter  a blissful eternity. She said;  “The world is thy ship and not thy home”. Be wise to  call a ship a ship. It is not our home. Our home is somewhere else.  Even our citizenship is  in another kingdom to which  we  eagerly look forward.

Death is the  occasion to  change  our citizenship.  We have to decide it  right now. If you are  confused, as usual, call our mother.

“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen! Let us  seek the help of the Holy  Family also by  praying; ‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, assist me in my last  agony’.

In the unfortunate event of you  being left alone at the time of death, with nobody to help you, place all your trust in Jesus   and look at a Crucifix, or bring one to mind in your imagination, and adore your redeemer. Recollect His passion which He endured for your sins. Meditate on the compassion of your Savior towards you as a sinner. Imagine Jesus on the Cross with his arms extended, his head bowed, embracing and supporting you, helping you face your sins.

Then undertake a general examination of your conscience, asking the Holy Spirit to uncover the sins of your life. Ask for the grace of honest repentance, not making excuses or rationalizations of sinful actions, trusting solely in the redemptive sufferings of Christ. If you are aware of any mortal or serious sins, ask for the grace to make an act of perfect contrition followed by this prayer: ‘Lord, have mercy on me a sinner’ or ‘ Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner’.

Pray for the assistance of your guardian angel and the communion of saints, especially those saints who were once sinners; St. Peter, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Dismas (the Good Thief) and St. Paul. Unable to receive Viaticum, make a spiritual communion by ardently longing to receive Holy Communion. At the moment of death, pray aloud or in your heart, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” or “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.”

May Jesus Christ who suffered  for us  bless all of us  with a happy death so that we may live  with him forever.

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