Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Whether we like it or not, whether we realize it or not, we will all die. But death is not only the separation of our spiritual soul from our material body; it is also our crossover from time to eternity.

Of course, Sacred Scripture refers to certain characters who appear not to have died: “Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him” (Gen 5:24). “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:11). Yet it is not entirely clear whether they in fact escaped death. In the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while Catholic dogma refers to her Assumption, “body and soul”, into heaven, we are free to speculate, as the Eastern Church holds, that, since death is the separation of body and soul, the Blessed Virgin did not die; she only fell asleep (Dormition). But the Blessed Virgin Mary is the only created human person exempt from original sin because of her unique role as Mother of God.

For the rest of us, we can expect that death will certainly arrive. It is a truth of our human nature as spiritual soul in a material body. Our bodies are composed of “matter”. Since all matter tends towards dis-integration, our bodies will dis-integrate and, therefore, will be separated from our spiritual souls. It is usually a wrenching, agonizing process because soul and body are so intimately united in man. Adam and Eve would have been exempt from death if they had not sinned, but that is because of the preternatural gift of immortality which they enjoyed while in the original state of friendship with God. The fall of our first parents resulted in the loss of these gifts, not only for them but also for us who inherit that “wounded” nature of Adam and Eve.

Since the human soul is a spiritual substance, it is not subject to disintegration or decay; it will continue to exist in eternity. Our greatest personal concern, therefore, should be what would happen to our soul in eternity. Life in time is the preparation for eternity. Time is where our free choices should direct our whole being towards our ultimate end, God. At the moment of death, the time of choosing ends; our soul will find itself in eternity. The state which it is in at this moment of death, whether for or against God, will be the state of that soul in eternity.

We often think of eternity as an endless continuum (infinity), “forever and ever”, which is valid as it refers to the absence of a point of beginning or end. But more precisely, eternity is simply timelessness. It is a dimension we can only vaguely comprehend because we live in time, i.e., in a universe that is in constant motion or constant change.

Time is an expression and measure of change. Our life in time is where we can change, where we can even vacillate between being for or against God. Eternity, on the other hand, is the immutability of God. It is also a mystery how God’s immutability accomodates human history and our existence in time. But we must hope that, at the moment we leave time and enter into eternity, our choices would have firmly oriented us for that definitive union with God in His eternal happiness—the “one thing necessary” (cf. Lk 10:41)—which is our perfection, holiness, sanctity, beatitude. Failing this, our lives would have been worse than meaningless, because we would then be (self-) condemned to eternal misery. We must constantly ask God to make our time on earth spatium verae paenitentiae, a time for true conversion. St. Josemaria writes: “Time is our treasure, the money with which to buy eternity” (Furrow, No. 882).

Since death is an event certain to happen, we would be very foolish not to prepare for it; that is, in terms of making sure that our time on earth is a continuing growth in knowing, loving and serving God. We do not know when (or how) death will come, nor what trials will test our love for God at that last moment in time; hence, the need to be constantly on guard, in constant training.

We all have a tendency to avoid thinking of death, especially our own, and therefore to omit preparing for it; but the thought of death should make us more conscious of the value of time—tempus breve est, “time is short” (1 Cor 7:29), as St. Paul reminds us—and therefore more prudent in the use of our time. Beyond merely avoiding sin, we need to sanctify our time on earth; generally, by living in the presence of God, converting all our ordinary activities into prayer; and, specifically, by applying ourselves to the fulfillment of the particular vocation we have received from God and fulfilling the duty of each moment. We will not waste our time pursuing goals which, although they may be good in themselves, are not in keeping with our specific vocation.

The thought of death can be terrifying and depressing; but not if placed in the context of our Christian faith. It is lack of faith that drives people to panic, to do anything just to cling on for a little more time to this world. For Christians, death is the passage into eternal happiness, to join all the saints who have gone before, especially St. Joseph, vir justus, the "just man" (Mt 1:19), who died in the loving presence of our Lord and our Lady, and who is therefore the patron saint, model and intercessor for a happy death. We also have recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ianua Caeli, Gate of Heaven, who will ensure that we do get to enter into the Kingdom of her Son.