Article 85 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1005-1014 Death
Our Christian faith teaches that death was not always in the cards. In his loving goodness, God had intended that we live forever. All that changed when sin entered the world through our first parents. The Catechism explains: “In a sense bodily death is natural, but for faith it is in fact ‘the wages of sin’” (ccc 1006). A few paragraphs later we read: “The Church’s Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of “man’s sin” (ccc 1008). In short, in the beginning death was “contrary to the plans ofGod the Creator” (ccc 1008). As a teenager, I recall reflecting on the topic of death as a result of an unfortunate accident that put me in the hospital with several serious injuries. The many weeks and months that followed gave me lots of time to reflect on the words of the Hail Mary, especially the last words: “… Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Before that time in my life, the thought of death was a very remote mystery. During my brush with death and subsequent stay in the hospital I came to the realization that death was not something to be feared. In fact, I realized that Jesus Christ was my refuge, even at the hour of death.
Death will bring us to the end of this mortal life and to the beginning of a life that will never end. “In that ‘departure’ which is death the soul is separated from the body. It will be reunited with the body on the day of resurrection of the dead” (ccc 1005).
“…Remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment” (ccc 1007). Our body goes to the grave to corrupt into dust. Though only temporary, this corruption is complete until the final resurrection. But, our soul goes to eternity — to begin an eternal life. At death, our soul passes into a new horizon. What will that other life be like? The life to come takes its character from how we live this life. As you live, so shall you die (see Romans 8:13). If your life ends as a rebellion against God and his law, then death is an enemy, a grim specter to be feared and dreaded. But, if you do your best with the help of God’s grace, death is a friend, bringing an end to suffering and temptation, and the certainty of final union with God in the company of the saints and angels for all eternity.
To those who love Christ, death is not a thing tobe dreaded; it is the beginning of all for whichwe hope and pray. As the Catechism puts it: “Death is transformed by Christ. The obedience of Jesus has transformed the curse of death into a blessing” (ccc 1009). Why, then, should we shy away from the thought of death?
Why should we rob ourselves of what might make us worthy of a higher place in heaven? The thought of death makes us wish that our life had been, or was, different.
The Catechism reminds us: “Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning” (ccc 2010). Reflecting on death can help us, for it makes us realize how we have squandered opportunities to do good. The thought of death makes us aware that time is being wasted, that golden opportunities are slipping away. The thought of death helps us get ready for the life for which death is a rebirth. “Through Baptism, the Christian has already ‘died with Christ’ sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this ‘dying with Christ’ and so completes our incorporation into him in his redeeming act” (ccc 1010). Many converts to the Catholic faith say that they conclude their search for truth in the Church with her seven sacraments. One of these sacraments is the sacrament of the sick and dying, formerly called Extreme Unction. Think of this sacrament as Jesus himself with outstretched arms of welcome. Through his sacrament, he says: “Come to me!” All who come to him find peace, comfort, warmth, and strength. So, think of your death as a time of entering into the secure refuge of the loving Heart of Jesus.
When someone close to us dies, we who are left behind feel a great loss, an emptiness. The separation colors our thinking and even makes us fear our own dying. But, death is actually the final call of a loving Lord and Savior who says within us: Come to the Father. In the words of St. Teresa of Avila: “I want to see God and, in order to see him, I must die” (ccc 1011).
The final few paragraphs in this section of the Catechism remind us that “when … our earthly life is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives … There is no ‘reincarnation’ after death” (ccc 1013), and, to prepare ourselves for death, we ought “to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us at the hour of our death in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death” (ccc 1014).
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Persons with Disabilities