A Good Death
I'm Ed The Protestant. Greg Smith (creator of Considering Catholicism) has invited me to not only consider the Catholic faith, but to record our (already ongoing) conversations for his podcast. You can follow my walk toward Catholicism on the podcast, and here on the blog.
Several years ago Greg and I were somewhere, eating something, and talking about our last hours on earth. I told him I was afraid that instead of thinking big, eternal thoughts as I lay dying, I’d have the song Radar Love stuck in my head on an endless loop.
He said he was afraid he'd reach over to get a last drink of water, knock the cup onto the floor, blurt out a bad word, then die, and that would be the last thing he ever said. I offered to write a song for his funeral, "The Last Words of Greg Smith".
That was fifteen years ago. These days I'll show up at the One Whirling Adventure Secret Outdoor Compound to record podcasts, and we'll sit in the adirondack chairs for 20 minutes talking about our looming retirement and how to make the most of the time.
The Catholics, I'm seeing, are very good at adding...how to say this...weight to important matters. They build up structures around them. Greg and I discussed death on the podcast (listen here) and I learned a Catholic saying--'Memento Mori', latin for 'remember your own death'. Greg even has replica of a human skull on a shelf in his study--a memento of what is surely to come.
This would all be morbid if death was only a possibility, but of course, it's a certainty. And if I spend time and effort planning and preparing for retirement, which will last only twenty or thirty years at best, how much more should I be preparing for eternity, which will last a lot longer?
Making peace with God seems to be the order of the day. And since we can't choose the time or circumstances of our death, making that peace on a regular basis seems like a really good idea. The Catholic Church is set up wonderfully for this.
I love these lines from a poem by C.S. Lewis (you can read it here), concerning the body after death:
A garment washed and folded up
Faded in color, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
I need to be about the business of letting God wash that dirtiness. And not in a sad, morbid way, but in a joyful, expectant way. As the Apostle Paul said, "To live is Christ, and to die is gain".