From Soul of Christ
The final petition, which is so rich it will take two chapters to cover, is a prayer for the last moments of our lives. It reminds us of the eternal purpose for which God created and sustains us.
In the hour of my death…
Like the Hail Mary, the ending of this prayer focuses on the end of our journey here on Earth, the decisive moments when we are about to enter eternity. Our faith can be strengthened when we consider the moment of our death, a practice recommended by many saints – from the Fathers of the church up to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Roman Catholic tradition wisely encourages us to reflect on the “Four Last Things,” which refer to death, judgment, Heaven, and hell.
The thought of death reminds us how fragile – and thus how precious – is the gift of life. When we remember how short our time is on Earth, we are more likely to give priority to what is truly important in our lives.
Every year, all of the sisters of my community make a weeklong retreat. Almost every retreat directs us to meditate on both the shortness and purpose of our lives. These are some of the question I ask myself:
- If this were the last year of my life, what would I do differently?
- Where do I want to be at the end of my life: in my spiritual life, my relationships, my personal growth, my mission?
- How have I fulfilled the vocation God has entrusted to me?
- How has my life made a difference to others?
- How have I used the gifts God has given me?
Time is the way God gives us to grasp the immense gift of our lives. With our gaze fixed on eternity, our heart and feet are planted solidly in the present moment, where God’s grace can work in us and through us. We are all called to live this balance between time and eternity not in anxiety but in awareness.
Death unsettles our culture, which often tries to pretend that it does not exist. Yet, one of the few things we can predict with certainty is that someday we will die. As a woman religious, I live in a community with a counter-cultural attitude toward death. I have been privileged to personally witness the last moments of life of several sisters. These sisters have surprised me with their readiness – even their eagerness – to “go beyond.” Having lived their entire lives in the light of eternity, at their final moments their faith gives them clearer vision than the rest of us. Death is not an ending but a beginning.
In 1937, Sister Mary Nazarene Prestofilippo was one of the first young women to enter the Daughters of St. Paul, newly founded in the United States. When I first visited the community almost fifty years later, I was struck by Sister Nazarene’s vibrant friendliness, her short stature, her lively remarks, and the community’s loving nickname for her, “Sister Naz.” While I never had the opportunity to become a close friend, she was always a sister with whom I could share a friendly word.
With each passing year, Sister Nazarene’s health gradually declined. As her prayer became her work, she generously offered her life for many intentions – especially vocations to priestly and religious life. With her kidneys gradually failing, she underwent dialysis three times a week. I think it was at this point that she started talking more about Heaven – she felt ready to go! In the last months of her life, she complained several times, “What is taking him so long?” Her question was no joke, nor a desire to alleviate suffering. Instead, it was an expression of her deep longing to finally be completely united to Christ. Her faith bolstered the sisters who accompanied her in her last days, and her funeral became a celebration of life for all of us.
…call me and bid me come to you.
The moment of death and other critical moments of our lives – such as profound religious experiences – are sacred moments where God most directly touches us. God’s final call, “Come to me,” which we hear regularly at Mass and Eucharistic adoration, will be irresistible if our entire lives have been a preparation for eternal life with him. God’s call will enable us to make our last choice a complete surrender of ourselves into his hands – an incredibly beautiful way to crown our lives.
If we want our death to be a beautiful offering of ourselves to God, we can begin to prepare ourselves now by:
- giving priority to our relationship with God, learning to listen to his call in our daily life;
- living in love so that we will be ready for new life in the eternal kingdom of love;
- learning how to surrender to the Lord in the many “daily deaths,” or little detachments that we undergo, so that we can learn how to give ourselves completely to him.