Now and at the hour of our death Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

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Our Catholic faith teaches us to respect all human life, from womb to the tomb. In our society today, it seems as if we focus more on the beginning of life than on the end of it.

Many people do not like to talk about death, but it is something we all will face. Some of us will face it sooner than others, but it is inevitable.

Experiences of death

In the past two weeks, I’ve had three different experiences of death: the unexpected death of the three-year-old granddaughter of a co-worker, the suicide of a teenager who is the sister of someone I know, and the impending death of a 90-year-old friend.

All three of these experiences were fraught with emotions: sadness, frustration, anger, and acceptance. While dealing with death in such different ways, I realized how very important our faith is to help cope with death and dying.

Without our faith, life can seem meaningless. But with faith, we realize that our life on earth is just the beginning of a continuum. We can’t comprehend eternity, but we believe it awaits us. We have hope that we will eventually join with God, the angels, and saints in life everlasting.

Death of a child

The death of a child is perhaps the most difficult thing to accept. We ask, “Why was this beloved child called to eternal life so early? Why won’t she be able to grow up and stay with us?”

Yet, she will continue to be with her family and friends as they remember her and keep her memory alive. We are fortunate these days to have photographs and video so we don’t forget our loved ones do easily.

The funeral for a child is called a “Mass of the Angels. As a priest reminded us, we can pray to children who have died. Since baptism has ensured the purity of their souls, they should be in heaven. They can intercede for us.

Communion of saints

This reminds us that we are all part of the communion of saints, which has been described as”the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head” (Catholic Encyclopedia).

As we conclude October as Respect Life Month, we also look forward to All Souls Day on November 2. This is a special day in the Church calendar devoted to remembering all those who have died.

This is an especially appropriate time to visit the graves of deceased family members or friends and to pray for all the dead. In addition to remembering people I know who have died, I always like to pray for those persons who may not have anyone praying for them.

Remembering the sick and dying

We also might want to spend time in prayer for the sick and dying. Besides prayer, a visit, phone call, card, or e-mail to someone who is ill might be an appropriate gesture of compassion and caring.

An article in this year’s Respect Life Program from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explores the ethical issues surrounding care of the sick and dying. It suggests that a resource for Catholics is the U.S. bishops’ document on The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which provides guidance on the care of dying or vulnerable family members. In addition, the National Catholic Bioethics Center provides a 24-hour ethics consultation service, free of charge. Those interested may call 215-877-2660.

With economic pressures and the increasing costs of health care, we must remain alert to any attempts to speed up the dying process. Our faith teaches us to love each other during life, at the hour of our death, and beyond.