But the only way is death

Last night a friend from college days died suddenly. I didn’t know Matt well, but he married my wife’s former roommate, who was a good friend, and I was always grateful to Matt for being so good to Sharon. We got Christmas cards from them every year. I kept up with Matt via Facebook.

Last November, Matt posted this on Facebook:

Ok, so I’m going through a rough day. (nothing major, I’m not dying or anything.) But it occurs to me that we have to consider our place in the world sometimes. It’s been my pleasure to know some wonderful men and women, and it occurs to me that we live as long as God plans us to. Some young, some old, but all to their cause. There really is only one sin, “Non Serviam” … “I will not serve”. On the feast of Bl. Miguel Pro I offer and ask you to say a prayer that echoes his last words, “Viva Cristo Rey”:

Dear Lord, let me be your poor servant. Grant me the wisdom to understand Your will, and the health and strength to carry it out. Allow me the grace to serve you as my Eternal King and show witness to the world of your sacrifice. I know that I am an imperfect vessel, and while I may try at times to bargain with you, I trust you and will always keep Your words in my heart, ‘Satan, get behind me’.

As I read over that last night, I thought about how marvelously comforting it was to read the deceased’s own words about death, about his own preparation for it. We don’t usually talk about such things, you know? But Matt’s FB post was a blessing.

So, even though I don’t think that I will die anytime soon, I decided to write a few words this morning about death and how I think of it.

A few years ago, I had a very vivid imagination that gripped me as though from the outside—although I wouldn’t say it was a vision or a supernatural experience. In this vivid interior sensation, the face of Jesus crucified leaned near me and I was overwhelmed by a smell of death and decay. It sounds horrible when I describe it—and I was horrified at the time—but I had an interior conviction that the message was this: “I mean to bring you close to me, but the only way is death.” I remember talking to Jacinta about it that night.

Fast forward to the year before last. I had some crazy, undiagnosed health problems, and for a period I did wonder: Am I going to die? In the crisis moments that came along once in a while, I would wonder: Is this it? I couldn’t do my job and I couldn’t take care of my kids, and I wondered what would fall away next.

I didn’t die, and it became clear that I wasn’t about to. Things are much better now. But that period brought me close to the thought of death, and in those very real moments of physical suffering I discovered that death really has been transformed.  That thing they say at church?  It’s true.  The best thing in life is giving yourself away, and the good news of Jesus Christ is that death has become a way of giving.

There just isn’t any other way of giving yourself that is as total as death. So I have made a habit of frequently offering to God my future death, in whatever form he will send it. I offer it for my wife, and for my children, and for my friends, and for whatever else he wants me to do.

Try it. That prayer will put your whole day in perspective.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Matt Reiser, and for strength and comfort for his wife, Sharon.

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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