The Grace of a Slow, Painful Death


The list of things reflective of the gradual but now quickening loss of the Catholic mind is long. Among the things demonstrative that Catholics no longer think like Catholics is the often expressed wish, “I hope I die a quick and painless death.”

Death can be scary, for sure, and I resist and avoid pain as much as the next wimp. But for as long as I can remember, a quick, unsuspecting, and painless death is the specter that haunts my dreams. I cannot count how many people I have heard express the wish, “I hope I die in my sleep.” When a Catholic expresses this wish, I shake my head and offer a prayer that their wish will go unfulfilled.

As Catholics, we should always keep in our prayers the intentions of the Pope. After reading a recent interview of Pope Francis with an Argentinian newspaper in which he addressed the threats to his life from ISIS, I found myself shaking my head, and offering a prayer that the Pope’s intention in this case, is not fulfilled.

According the NY Post:

Speaking to a tabloid newspaper in Buenos Aires nearly a year after the first ISIS plot to kill him was revealed, the pontiff opened up about the frightening possibility of being murdered in cold blood.

“Look, life is in God’s hands,” the pope told La Carcova News, according to the Italian newspaper Gazzetta del Sud.

“I have said to the Lord: take care of me. But if your will is that I should die or that they do something to me, I ask you one favor: that they don’t hurt me. Because I’m a real scaredy cat when it comes to physical pain.”

Now I understand full well that the Pope was not being terribly serious in his comment and likely sought to simply minimize the threat he faces while acknowledging that his fate is ultimately in God’s hands and not ISIS.  But I think that his unfortunate expressed desire for a quick and painless death reinforces the secular notion that all pain is useless and should be avoided at all costs.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we know that our Lord and Savior turned this notion on its head when he willingly entered our world to suffer as we suffer so that we might live.  We also know what Jesus said in Matthew 16, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.…”

For my part, I have always hoped to suffer consciously at my death, suffering sufficiently for the expiation of my many sins. To wish otherwise seems to be a denial of the need of expiation or presumption upon the mercy of God.  That is not the way I wish to die.

Five years ago my brother lost his battle with a brain tumor. He suffered with the knowledge of his ultimate prognosis for seven years and over his last remaining months, he suffered physically and emotionally. Even when he lost his ability to speak, his eyes always told us that his mind was still with us. Through all of it he suffered, accepted, smiled, and prayed.

When he finally passed, I knew that God granted to my brother something much greater than a quick and painless death, a grace of inestimable value, the grace of a conscious, slow, and painful death.  In many ways I think my big brother taught me life’s most valuable lesson.  He taught me how to die well as his Lord taught him.

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