Christians live in Christ. It is natural that they should also die in Christ at the appointed time. What does dying in Christ mean? It refers to the death of a person who, having reconciled himself with God, crosses the threshold of eternity with the firm hope that the doors of heaven are kept open for him. We call such a person blessed and his death a happy death. When the Scripture says that the death of His saints is precious to God, it is about the death of such people. It is the reason for the warning that nobody should be called blessed, till the time of his death.
If you ask about the greatest blessing one can get in this world, it is nothing but a happy death. We do not know the moment when God recalls the soul which He has placed in us. So the Bible reminds us to be vigilant at all times.
We honor St Joseph as the patron of a happy death, the reason being that he was blessed to have a happy death. Today we are looking into a particular aspect of the life of Joseph to find out what made him entitled for the greatest blessing of his life. It is not out of place to think about the concept of happy death in relation to St Joseph at the fag end of an year that is specially dedicated to him as protector of the Church.
We know that death is the end of a period and beginning of another in the continuum called life. What makes death important is that at that moment there exist two mutually exclusive possibilities. That of passing this threshold with the hope of entering eternal life or leaving this world in despair in the knowledge that one is going to eternal perdition. It is like the case of a tree falling to the side towards which it was leaning till then. It is the law of nature. A tree can never fall on the other side. Only way to overcome this natural law is to bind the tree with a strong rope to another tree or structure on the other side before placing the axe at its root. In this way we can make it fall to a different direction than where it should have fallen naturally.
In the same way, men also get a death appropriate to the way he spent his life. Those who lived a virtuous life will die in virtue. On the other hand, those who lived in sin will die in their sin. But there is an exception to this general rule. Those who bind themselves to Jesus Christ, the solid rock of salvation, with the rope of Divine Grace will die in Christ. Saints ensured a happy ending to their life innings in this way by tying them firmly to Christ, their refuge and fortress. They never allowed themselves to be detached from the Lord during their life. Even when they failed or fell, they bounced back with added vigor. For them death was just another step in their journey towards meeting their Lord. They did not fear condemnation as they lived and died in Christ. Paul the Apostle writes in his letter to the Romans ; ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1). The purpose of our catechism and all our pious exercises is to encourage us to emulate those saints so that we too enter into a personal relation with Jesus Christ that extends to eternity.
Before coming to Joseph and the way he procured a happy death, let me tell you something about Don Bosco. We know about the famous vision of Don Bosco in which he saw the Church as a great ship under attack from a flotilla of enemy vessels. The Pope who was steering Peter’s bark moors it to two columns, the first being one surmounted by a Monstrance with the Holy Eucharist exposed within it and the other being surmounted by a statue of the Blessed Virgin. The enemies failed to strike the bark anymore because it was safely moored between the Blessed Sacrament and Blessed Virgin.
Even today, the Church has only one enemy. It is none other than that ‘ancient serpent,who is Devil and Satan’. He is the sole enemy of humankind too. His attempts to strike and destroy our bark sailing peacefully towards our heavenly destination, and sink us into the bottomless pit will continue till the last moment of our life on earth. To escape from his snares unscathed and present ourselves before the Son of Man with a pure heart and pleasant face requires enormous spiritual strength culminating in a happy death. Many saints have written that Satan will attack the dying with all the weapons in his quiver in a last-ditch effort to capture his soul.
If the twin devotions to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin were the prescriptions for the Church’s triumph over evil, we too should make use of them in our ultimate spiritual battle. Now think of Joseph, who was blessed to have Jesus who himself is the Blessed Sacrament and Mary the Blessed Virgin at his side when his journey was about to end. What a beautiful death should it be when Jesus and Mary are by our bedside at the hour of our death! It is not possible to find a better person than Joseph to be the patron of the dying because he was blessed with the happiest of deaths among mortals.
Should we emphasize more the need to consecrate each of us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin. Let us live a life devoted to the Blessed Sacrament receiving the heavenly bread everyday and seek the help of Mary, Help of Christians through our daily Rosary and in this way earn the grace to approach the gates of eternity with peace and hope.
Let us pray:
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 (St Faustina’s Diary 813).
‘And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” ( Rev. 14:13)
These days we cannot expect a better blessing than a happy death. In the Book of Revelation it is also written: ‘And in those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.’ (Rev 9:6). It is time to think about death because we are moving fast to a situation where even death would be difficult and a happy death will be the ultimate blessing.
May the Good Lord give us the grace to commend our souls to the eternal father the way Jesus did.
Let us pray:
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I offer you my heart and my soul.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, assist me in my last agony.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul with you in peace.