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Domino Farms Sermon


Death: What is death?
Why do we die?
How are we to be prepared for it?

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

MP3 Disc 4 Received from Breslin

These Sermons were taped by Daniel Peper who
traveled and taped Fr. Hardon from 1990 to 1995

MP3 Audio of this Sermon - (21:46)

The most obvious lesson that our Lord wants to teach us in the gospel we have just read, is to be ready for death. Our reflections, therefore, are on death and ask the three most fundamental questions the mind can ask about anything: What is death? Why do we die? And how are we to be prepared for death?

Death, we know, is a separation of soul from body. Strictly speaking it is our body which dies. Our soul lives on.

What is death? Death is the punishment for sin. Had there been no sin, there would be no death. And living, as we are, in the most homicidal century of human history where there have been more violent deaths, including, now annually, over sixty million throughout the world of unborn children put to death. In other words, through sin death is increased. There’s a proportion between, dare I say it, the amount of sin and the amount of death. Not to know that death is a consequence of sin is not to understand how deeply God is offended by our acting contrary to his will.

So what does God do? Shall we say, in response to our not giving God what he wants, by sin God removes from us what we want because we have sinned.

What is death? Death is the end of our probation. Life in this world is a testing, a testing of our loyalty to God. Thank God that testing will come to an end.

What is death? All death surely is the end of our mortal life, our temporary life here on earth.

What does God want death to be? He wants it to be the dawn of eternal life. Over the centuries in what the Church calls her martyrology every day of the year there are dozens, scores of names of men, women, and children whose feasts is to be commemorated. On each day of the year, in the vocabulary of the Church, the day of our death is the day of our birth. We are still to be born; born, please God, into eternity.

Why do we die? We’ve said the revealed reason is because man has sinned. But we may say: “Could not God have punished the human race in other ways than depriving each human being of his and her human life, that what we call death. Yes.

We’re asking : Why do we die? We die in body that we might be conscious every day of our life in order to anticipate our death. I haven’t tried too hard. If I tried harder I might of succeeded when I’ve envied my confrere St. Aloysius who was allowed by his superiors to have a human skull on his desk all day.

Why do we die? To remind ourselves of how we need, how we need to be constantly reminded that life on earth, we call it temporal life…it’s become a cliché. What we should call it is temporary life.

Why do we die? That we might be mindful of the dawn of eternity and always, always look at the horizon to look beyond the life we are now living. And this is not coincidentally, as the Church in one prayer after another reminds us, different symbol, all the same idea, we are my friends, we are in the valley of tears.

Sure we smile on occasion, but even then it is to interrupt our tears. And the deepest pain is not shown when the eyes are weeping. The deepest pain is a searing agony in the heart.

Why do we die? That we might daily die. Die to what? Die to whom? Die to ourselves.

In other words, there’s only one danger before we enter eternity: that we have been so preoccupied with what we want, what we like…in a word, with our own self will…that when the Lord calls us, symbolized by the parable we had at Mass today, we’ll not be ready.

Who is ready to enter eternity? The person who has died to his and her self -will every day. I didn’t use to say this, but I do now…and all day.

Bodily death is meant to teach us the need we have to die to ourselves; die to what we want. And I’m still working at it, but it can be done.

The closer you get to eternity, you honestly, I mean it, look forward ?(--------)? I said today, this may be my last day on earth. Lord, I can’t wait.

Our Holy Father recommends that we read and come to memorize certain statements of the Fathers of the Church. One of St. Ambrose: The only one who does not want to die is the one who is in love with this world. What a lesson our bodily death should teach us. You are not made for this world. Lord, no! And the more aware we are, consciously are, of the fact that our real life is to begin the moment our body dies. But our souls had better be ready when the Bridegroom comes.

One last question: How are we to prepare ourselves for our bodily death? And prepare ourselves we should. And again this is Christ’s teaching: He tells us to watch…the Latin Vulgate, vigilante… watch out! How then are we to prepare for eternity? Some practical recommendations: All of us should have a daily, I recommend a twice daily a prayer; one as soon as we get up in the morning and one before we fall asleep at night. Plan, anticipate, this may be your last day or your last night on earth. How are we to prepare for death? By, a weak verb, be resigning ourselves to what all of us will experience. And we strengthen the verb, not only resign ourselves, but expect death. And the Latin from which our English “expect” is taken: expectare: means looking forward to our death. Of course, humanly speaking, bodily speaking we’re afraid of death. But this, in my judgment, is the single most assured evidence of a person living in the friendship of God: Fearing death naturally, expecting death supernaturally.

One thing over the years in teaching what we call the course, De Novissimus, the course on the four last things---in Latin they are not the four last things, they are the four first things…and not merely the first, but the very first. Novissimus in Latin is a superlative; the newest, the first. When we die, that will determine our condition for all eternity. The Church teaches infallibly, the Church

Who then can be assured of the grace, as we say, of a happy death? The one who has prayed for a happy death. There is such a thing as praying implicitly. Again it just happens to be the same Aloysius. Someone asked him…he was playing billiards during, of course, recreation:. One of his fellow ?(-------)? asked him, “Aloysius, what if you knew you were going to die tonight? What would you do now?” He smiled: “I’d keep playing billiards.”

My first homily as a member of the Society of Jesus…I like to repeat this…as a novice, spent weeks preparing that first homily. Now the statement in the Old Testament: Remember your last end and you will never sin. You might be surprised at my recommendation: Keep death in mind always and the Church to help us. Look what she’s done. At the end of each Our Father is the closing invocation: Deliver us from evil…and the evil that we mainly pray to be delivered from in closing the Lord’s Prayer is the only evil, the only evil we should dread in life is to die estranged from God. The closing petition of every Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for a happy death. And the Hail Mary which, which as you know, the Church added the second part, we casually call the Hail Mary. For over a thousand years it was Hail Mary, and then it would end “and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Well the Church added the Holy Mary which again closes asking Our Lady “pray for us now, and at the hour”, and that hour means at the moment of our death.

One closing observation, this too, as over the years I’ve told my students and the audiences I speak to, we’re infallibly sure who will die in the grace of God. Say that again: We’re infallibly sure who will die in the grace of God. Who is that? The person who prays. And not I, but Our Lord, himself tells us to “pray always”. The more frequent, the more constant, and the more fervent our prayer, the more sure we are that when the Bridegroom comes, we’ll be ready. Amen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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