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Death and priorities

October 25, 2010

Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.

(Pope Paul  VI)


My grandfather unexpectedly passed away last night at the age of 94. It is the first time I have witnessed someone dying. I am grateful to God because I was able to speak to him while he was still awake and tell him all the important, heartfelt things that rarely get said. It gave me great peace and judging by the look in my grandpa’s eyes, it meant the world to him.

He didn’t live a religious or pious life in all the years I knew him; however, recently he hung a cross in his car and the day he died (before he fell suddenly ill) he asked my daughter to pray for him. He also happily shared how his friend and landlord had just spoken to him and told him he had prayed for him at church. This was out of character for my grandpa. I always knew him as a man gruff about feelings or religion. But in the last two years he has had many close friends and family members die and he himself came close to death at one point… I hold out hope that the overwhelming loss prompted him to take the time to think seriously about God and ultimately caused him to place his belief in Him. I trust in God’s inexhaustible mercy…if my grandpa truly desired God, I know God will not refuse him.

God's judgementI don’t believe it was coincidence that while I was praying the evening before he died, God strongly impressed upon me the reality of Heaven, Hell, and all of the souls that live in darkness only to go on to an eternity in darkness. I understood with incredible clarity just how grave the situation is, and the heavy grief it causes Him to lose even one of His beloved to the depths of Hell. I felt the weight of this reality, and how nothing else should matter to us but the salvation of souls.

No matter what the cost.

How many opportunities do we pass up to share the basic fact that Jesus is Lord? That Heaven and Hell are real, and there is one way, one truth, one life? How many times do we hide, minimize, or apologize for our faith because we are embarrassed, outnumbered, or don’t want to pay the price (of losing a friendship, family member, job, respectability, freedom, or even our life)?

How much time do we spend on storing up treasures on earth (striving for popularity and friendships, frequent vacations, sporting achievements, gourmet meals, career advancements, ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ sexual experiences, public recognition, or that ‘perfect’ body), in comparison to how much time we spend on storing up treasures in Heaven (by daily prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, regular confession, frequent taking of the Eucharist, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, almsgiving, fasting, evangelizing, properly catechizing and protecting the purity of our children, pilgrimages, service to the poor/sick/helpless/orphaned/widowed/imprisoned, etc.)?

If people would do for God what they do for the world, what a great number of Christians would go to Heaven! – St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars

With my grandpa’s death these thoughts have hit me even harder. As my grandpa lay sedated in his hospital bed, struggling for every breath as his lungs filled up with fluid, the utter futility and vanity of all that this world has to offer was abundantly clear to me. His family and friends were almost entirely gone, having passed from this life before him. The jobs he performed in his younger days were irrelevant. His passion for fishing and hunting was meaningless. The money he had so carefully stored up for himself was not there to comfort him. Whether he was skinny or fat didn’t matter. No one cared what clothes he was wearing or what ‘apps’ his cell phone had. The car he drove and the stuff sitting in his house will either be given to someone else or end up in the local dump. Everything that used to matter was suddenly seen for what it truly was: useless and inconsequential.

What will be there to assist me and you at the hour of our death? In that moment where you know this is the end, and you reflect back on the sum of your life, what will bring you strength and comfort?

For me, the degree of comfort I receive will correspond only to how wildly loved God.

The only “people” I can count on being there to help me transition from this life to the next will be my guardian angel, and if God has found special favor with me, the Blessed Virgin, and/or some Saints and/or my Beloved Savior himself. The only “things” that will bring me peace, hope, and courage will be my faith in God’s infinite mercy and love, and the recollection of our relationship while travailing this earth: how fervently and unceasingly I prayed and how He patiently listened to and taught me in return; how regularly I asked forgiveness and how often He gave it; how often I ate the Bread of Life and how often He sustained my life because of it; how sincerely I tried to stay faithful to His teachings and how abundantly He gave me the grace to do so; how confidently and persistently I proclaimed His reality to all and how He responded by drawing them to Himself; how mindfully I had compassion on the needy and how He blessed my contributions a hundredfold…

As Fr. John Corapi has so famously said, “In the end, forever, you and I will be in Heaven or Hell. Period.”

That is the only thing that matters.


From → Death, Holiness, Suffering

  1. This was especially hard for me to read, because I know how you’re feeling. I can almost completely relate; I have had two grandparents die suddenly in the past 3 months. I’m so happy you were able to be there with him, and were able to tell him everything you needed to. On the way to the hospital to see my grandmother, I had an eerie feeling that I was losing the race against time. I kept praying simultaneously that I would get there in time and that I wouldn’t; God knew I couldn’t handle it, I guess. By the time I had gotten there, she was gone.

    In the days and weeks afterwards, God really blessed me with closeness to Him, and while I did not have these mature insights, it was a time of healing and grace. I pray for you to have the same.

    It’s amazing how God can work in peoples’ hearts, and your grandfather is proof that it’s never too late to know Him. I’m sure Hannah’s prayers for him were given priority. 🙂

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your Grandfather,Erika. I am glad you were able to speak with him before he passed. Your family will be in my prayers.

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