A reflection on mortality and hope

When we were in our youth, death seemed to be a distant event. Yes, we vaguely knew that death could come from an accident or from contracting a deadly disease or illness, but we viewed it as something remote. Life was such that we were always looking to the next moment and perhaps the next day.

As we grew older, our vision began to expand a little more into the future. There was high school and soon we were planning for college. As college was ending, we thought about what profession we would want to enter.

If we didn’t choose the ministry or consecrated life, we also started looking for the person with whom we could share our lives in marriage. Marriage naturally led to starting a family which included educating the children and finding a house or houses. There were efforts to advance in a company or move to a better job. Along the way, we might have planned financially for retirement. As our mid-60’s approached, we tried to ascertain what we should do in our retirement.

In retirement or semi-retirement, some might be lucky enough to have the time and health to engage in activities a previously full schedule of commitments to marriage, a demanding job, and family precluded. There is time to literally smell the roses, appreciate chirping birds, and ruminate over the beauty of trees; to write, ponder, pray, volunteer in community or church activities, spend more quality time with one’s spouse, and be available to assist, as needed, with the grandchildren. With such an experience of life, one can be tempted to believe he or she has reached nirvana and that it would be fine if it were to last forever.

However, lurking is the realization that one’s death is coming ever nearer, that the years behind us are much greater than the years we have ahead. Yes, we know it is not unusual for one to live into one’s 80’s or 90’s, but we also know that plenty of persons die in their 60’s, and 70’s, from sickness or natural causes. While we still dream of future goals or plans, we know they are now more tenuous. We apprehend that we may not be here to see the grandchildren’s college graduations or marriages, or even to see all of them be born. We are unlikely to see our great-grandchildren. We definitely will not see the mid-century.

But there is something more striking than knowing we will someday not be here. It is the other side of the coin. Within a very short time—perhaps tomorrow, next week, within 10 years, within 20 years, but most likely not beyond thirty years—we will have already definitely stepped into and begun living in another heretofore unknown reality which will last forever. That is a sobering, perhaps scary, thought.

It may prompt a review of our lives which may elicit memories of failures to prioritize God, spouse, children, and declining parents, errors of judgment, selfishness, wasting of valuable time, laziness, and other reasons for regret. If we believe in a God who provides us a heavenly afterlife, we may suffer uncertainty as to whether we have lived the life the Lord wanted us to live. We may wonder if the good we have accomplished is enough to offset such failings. We may be concerned whether we have been generous enough to the poor and homeless. We may ponder whether whatever good we have done been has been performed out of love for the Lord or to make us look or feel good. We may consider if we are being too hard on ourselves or, rather, expecting easy forgiveness.

Such thoughts can spur a change of heart, a conversion, enabling us to kneel before the Lord to ask for His forgiveness, especially in Confession, and to seek His wisdom and strength to ascertain and do His will through regular personal prayer and reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. We can thereby find comfort and peace in our present reality.

For we as Christians should not be afraid but hopeful, maybe even yearning for that new reality of being with the Lord for all eternity. After all, Christ has said “would I have called you unless I had prepared a place for you,” and assured us that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Perhaps this prayer suggested by the wonderful spiritual writer, Father Jacques Philippe, can help us begin again our ever accelerating journey:

“Thank you, my God, for all my past. I firmly believe that you can draw good out of everything I have lived through. I want to have no regrets, and I resolve today to begin from zero, with exactly the same trust as if all my past history were made up of nothing but faithfulness and holiness. Amen.”            

Richard P. Maggi, Esq., graduated from ND in ‘73 and has been a litigation attorney for the past 40 years. He is also a commentator on religion and politics having been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, First Things (web edition), Crisis Magazine, the Washington Examiner, Human Life Review, and Notre Dame Magazine. He recently retired from the board of the Legal Center for the Defense of Life, is a Past Grand Knight of Summit Council 783, and an active member of Our Lady of Peace Parish in New Providence, New Jersey.