Thursday, March 4, 2010

An Evangelical & Catholic View of Death

Father Solanus Casey, whose Capuchin ministry embraced the first half of the twentieth century, had a profound trust in Christ, so much so that one might say he had a sense of grateful acceptance of every form of suffering and humiliation, even of death itself. It is a beautiful and edifying gift to witness such childlike faith, even from afar. For example, I never knew Fr. Solanus; he died in July of 1957. And yet I have come to know him through written and oral accounts of his amazing life. And I have been blessed in the process of thus coming to know him.

I'd like to share a few of his words, which epitomize his Christian view of death. He wrote the following in a letter to a friend:

"Many are the rainbows, the sunbursts, the gentle breezes-and the hailstorms we are liable to meet before, by the grace of God, we shall be able to tumble into our graves with the confidence of tired children into their places of peaceful slumber." (quoted on p. 105 of the book, Meet Solanus Casey, by Brother Leo Wollenweber, OFM, Cap.)

On a similar note, in a letter to his niece he wrote the following:

"Let us thank God ahead of time for whatever He foresees is pleasing to Him,...leaving everything at His divine disposal, including-with all its circumstances, when, where, and how-God may be pleased to dispose the events of our death." (105-106)

No one knows the circumstances of his death, including the question of when it will take place. Yet for those whose faith is in Christ, the conqueror of death and the devil, death is a mere slumber, through which we enter life in its fullness. I like to think of it as analogous to the difference between the life a child knows in his mother's womb and what awaits him on the other side of the traumatic experience of the birth canal. We simply cannot put our feeble minds and words around the experience of heaven. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us. So Luther teaches in the Small Catechism that it is "gracious" of God to "take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven." Death is not in itself a good thing. It is the ultimate humiliation. But through it God raises and exalts them that have been buried by Baptism into His Son's humiliating death, up into the newness of His own life.

Father Solanus seems to have known these truths intimately. Like him, we can all face the humiliations, and mortifications, of this life, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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