A forum of Catholic Thought

Spirituality



Wisdom from the doorstep of death

Help us expand our reach! Please share this article on social media

Realizing ... that we are on a journey and life canít be bottled up and kept forever leads to peace of mind. It frees us from living a fictitious life.

Father Eugene
Hemrick

Father John Barrett, my friend and mentor, died July 16. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he told the doctor that he was choosing quality time over quantity time and wanted no extraordinary means to prolong his life. He said he found comfort in imagining that he'd be looking down at his funeral.

John was very dear to me. I would never had made it through the seminary had it not been for him. Even after he retired, his love for the diocese never retired. On our last day together, John spoke of his deep concern over losing priests faster than they were being ordained.

Looking back on our last moments together, I realize I received the greatest gift a friend can give to another and that's to truthfully talk about facing death.

In choosing quality time, John echoed the spiritual writer Jean-Pierre de Caussade, who emphasized living the "sacrament of the present moment."

It is easy to become obsessed with death's dark side and to fight it to the detriment of joyfully living the moment. Christ says as much in Matthew 13:16: "But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear." He implores us to see God's life on earth, to let it touch us and give us life, to experience the experience of life.

In not wanting to prolong his life, John echoed the wisdom of spiritual writers: to avoid the temptation of having a death grip on life.

Prolonging life at all costs and staying young is a societal obsession. Realizing, however, that we are on a journey and life can't be bottled up and kept forever leads to peace of mind. It frees us from living a fictitious life.

To imagine looking down on our funeral reflects a beautiful act of faith. It says that as Christ died and rose from the dead, we, too, expect life after death.

Honestly speaking, no matter how we look at the death of a friend, death still haunts us. How do we reduce that haunting feeling? How about reflecting on our birth and asking where did we reside before being born? Did we come from nowhere? Where did the seed that produced life in the first place come from?

Questions such as these reveal the world of mysteries in which we live, the world in which John lived. These mysteries cause us to further wonder, What other mysteries await us?

FATHER HEMRICK IS A COLUMNIST WITH THE CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE.

FatherEugene Hemrick is a columnist for Catholic News Service

Help us expand our reach! Please share this article on social media

Recent articles in the Spirituality section