Last month, I saw a side of death I never expected. It was majestic. It is an experience I shall probably ponder the rest of my life. I am so grateful that it came. I realize to some, this thought may seem strange. Strangeness itself has become a sign post to me. The presence of paradox is like a beacon calling the wayward ship into the safety of the harbor. The beacon’s purpose for existence is fulfilled only in the midst of darkness and storms. In the light of day, it is only a beautiful building without purpose, it ceases to be light. It can only shine in the dark. To help explain the beauty of this paradoxical life by death, I thought it fitting to share a meditation from the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on the meaning of death. May it bless you and bring you into the fullness of life.
Death is an affirmation of the purpose of life in an otherwise meaningless existence. The world could carry on its godless plan if there were no death. What death is to an individual, that catastrophe is to a civilization—the end of its wickedness. This is the source of anguish to the modern mind, for not only must man die, but the world must die. Death is a negative testimony to God’s power in a meaningless world, for by it God brings meaningless existence to naught.
Because God exists, evil cannot carry on its wickedness indefinitely. If there were no catastrophe such as the Apocalypse reveals at the end of the world, the universe would then be the triumph of chaos. But the catastrophe is a reminder that God will not allow unrighteousness to become eternal.
Life Means Something
Death proves also that life has meaning, because it reveals that the virtues and goodness practiced within time do not find their completion except in eternity.
Man is much more afraid of dying in a train wreck or automobile accident than he is of dying on a battlefield or as a martyr to his faith. This proves that death is less terrifying and more meaningful when we rise above the level of the commonplace and lift ourselves into the realm of spiritual values.
That death is the end of evil revealed too in the fact that the face of the death is often more harmonious than the same face in life, as the sleeping face more restful than the face awake. The ugly feelings and hates, eccentricities and discords disappear in the presence of the death, so much so that we use the expression “of the dead say nothing but good.”
In the face of the dead, we give praise and adulation; we resurrect the good things and the charities, kindnesses and humor. All of these are recalled posthumously, making us wonder if death itself may not be the thrust into the forefront of the good which we have done, rather than the evil. Not that both will not be recalled, but rather that as life brought out the debit side of our character, so death will bring out the credit side. Death, in other words, is bound up with goodness.
Death and Love
Death is also bound up with love, or better, love is always bound up with death. He who accepts love accepts sacrifice. The ring of gold instead of the the ring of tin is sacrifice, and sacrifice is a form of death. Beyond all of these minor sacrifices, the love is complete when it is most willing to accept for the beloved the sacrifice of death, as a soldier dies for his country.
He who would attach too much value to life and run away from death, runs away from perfect love. “Greater man has no man than this, that a man lay down his live for his friends.”
Your Real Self Revealed
Death also will individualize and personalize us, who are today brought together in crowds and groups. Death separates the soul from the body; in doing so, each and every person is searched. Then shall be revealed my true self—not the self I think I am. The soul will stand naked before God as it truly is. If it is not clothed with virtue, it will feel ashamed as Adam and Eve did after their sin when they hid from God. It is curious that only after their sin did they feel naked and ashamed.
The relationship between the nakedness of the soul and sin is manifested in the fact that the less people have of inner grace in this life, the more gaudily they dress; it is a kind of compensation for the nudity of their souls.
There shall then be only that me that sinned, that gave to the poor, that prayed, or that blasphemed. Then it will not be the me that lives, but the me that has lived, the me at the end of the day of life.
There will be no attorneys to plead the case, no alienists to argue that we were not in our right minds when we did wrong, there will be only one voice. It will be the voice of conscience which will reveal ourselves as we really are. We will thus be our own witness and our own judge. Nothing is as dramatic as death, for in it each man votes and decides his eternity.