How my faith has helped me face my own mortality
A Reflection for Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
“Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mk 1:38)
Christ came to liberate those who, because they fear death, have been “subject to slavery all their life,” the author of Hebrews tells us in the first reading. Some are so afraid of death that they live out their lives in a cage.
That includes me. Facing my own death is, at this moment, somewhat theoretical. I’m in relatively good health and have decades to go before I reach the average life expectancy in this country. But not infrequently, I contemplate my inevitable demise. Often, the thought terrifies me.
It’s not that I fear hell (though perhaps I should). It’s the utter uncertainty of what happens next. Sometimes, the thought of death fills me with paralyzing doubt. I try to laugh it off. Sometimes I think of that old Woody Allen joke: “I'm not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Wanting to be certain of the future is a little silly when I think about it. I often think I’m quite certain of what’s going to happen, but with time, I learn I was wrong. Still, I maintain the illusion of certainty.
I believe that Jesus will be with me in death as he is with me in life. That’s when the fear lessens. Sometimes, the fear of death falls away completely.
The difference with death is that I can’t seem to convince myself that I know what will happen. It remains unknown, in the darkness just beyond the reach of my headlights on a dark road.
Sometimes, for example, I think of purgatory like the television show “Hoarders.” Maybe purgatory is the place you go to get rid of all the junk you’ve been spiritually hoarding all your life. You know, all your baggage, all your resentments. Where your ego finally dies before you get into heaven. Maybe.
I know I cannot see into the future, so why do I expect to know what heaven will be like? I have to let go and accept that I cannot.
It’s in those moments of detachment that I find peace with death. When I surrender and accept the uncertainty. It is when I believe that Jesus will be with me in death as he is with me in life. That’s when the fear lessens. Sometimes, the fear of death falls away completely.
It’s that same Jesus that has the power to cure the sick, calm the storms and raise the dead. The one with the power to forgive sins and cast out demons. And in those moments when I truly believe and realize that God is with me, I do not fear anything.