Go forth, Christian soul, from this world: Proficiscere anima Christiana, de hoc mundo. So begins the church’s commendation of the dying. We will hear this bidding, all of us, when we come to the end of our lives. How we will hear, the manner by which it be conveyed, is not important. It is the meaning of the message that matters: Our mortal life is over. Nothing remains. Whatever our earthly days were like, whatever we thought might yet be coming, this announcement will sever us, like a sword, from the scene we have called life.
How different this moment will be from all that came before. As long as we live, in whatever condition we live, we throw ourselves into the future. We are raising children. We are building a career. We are just trying to get the house straightened up. We need to prepare for supper. We must renew a prescription. We have got to call a family member. The scales contract, but we never cease loading onto our lives what we need to do, what must be finished.
Death has its own foreshadows in life. We know what it means to run out of time.
This is why the revelation that we must now depart, that everything we were doing, indeed, everything that we ourselves simply were—it is finished! We rightly dread death because it is the decided darkness, because to fall over this edge is to be forever lost to bystanders.
Yet death has its own foreshadows in life. We know what it means to run out of time. We have all had such an experience: a few years, a few more days, a few more seconds simply are not given to us. We must sell the business because we cannot take even one more year of loss. We don’t have any more days. The ones whom we love must return on the date marked by their tickets. A few more seconds might indeed have made a difference, but the whistle has blown. The game, even the season and the high school career are finished.
Perhaps even worse are the deadlines—what a terribly apt word—that we pass without recognition. A sickening realization comes over us. My child is past the point where I can intervene. I am too old to start again. I am not going to get back my strength. How could I have worked so hard, raced so fast into the future and not have seen time itself falling away? My present has become my past, and I did not even notice.
To pass through death is to be awakened from a fretful and frightening sleep. What we thought was lost is, wondrously, restored to us.
We celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. The feasts of the church’s year are mysteries. We come at them annually in order to ponder them again, to dig deeper into an ever-enriching revelation. Here is one meaning of the day: All time belongs to him. Christ alone can and will bring it to completion, to its proper ripening.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven (Col 1:17-20).
Death is a deadline. Everything we have and are will cease. But hearing “Go forth, Christian soul, from this world” will not come upon the faithful as an implosion of all that is good. No, the good Lord will gently lift cares out of our hands and tell us that we were never meant to accomplish all these things, to bring all of this to fulfillment. His mercy and the prayers of others will finish what we have begun. Our lives of creative, ceaseless struggle can now cease. They have been no more than preparation for what was always to come. In the words of Shakespeare, “We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on; and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep.”
To watch death is to observe an eclipse of light, of life. To pass through death is to be awakened from a fretful and frightening sleep. What we thought was lost is, wondrously, restored to us. What we feared could never be accomplished is achieved.
Life has as many dreams and desires as we who live it. Only those who die in infancy escape its fears and its frustrations. Yet when everything slips away from us, even time itself, the Lord Jesus will remain at our side. Putting one hand in ours, he will stretch forth his other hand: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).