Death has been all around me my whole life. Many times, I wasn’t aware of it or even thought of it much, until I began my law enforcement career. I’ll never forget the first homicide I responded to and the strange feeling that came over me as I looked into the lifeless eyes of the body lying on the sidewalk.
In that moment, death became very real for me. Again, it’s not like death had never touched me. Three of my four grandparents had passed before then but, somehow, death had been something that I never really thought about. But, in that moment, death became very real to me and an almost daily occurrence. Despite some close calls, I felt, at times, like death couldn’t touch me.
Then my sister died.
My world got rocked. Suddenly, someone that was dear to me had been “taken” far too soon. I remember beginning to ask questions of myself, of faith, of God. I honestly don’t think I had given much thought about it until then, despite the daily violence I witnessed as a police officer. It was only years later that I came to a truly Christian understanding of death.
In our culture, people think that death is the end. So, the way the world lives should be no surprise to us. If you believe that your 70-80 years or so on this plane of existence is all there is, then eat, drink, be merry and do whatever you want. In that scenario, truth is completely subjective, and death and sickness and aging are to be avoided at all costs.
If we are Christian, we know this is not true. If we are Christian, we know that humanity was created by God to be in perfect communion with Him and each other and His creation for all eternity. Death was never meant to be part of the equation. That’s why it feels so unnatural and uncomfortable to us; because it is unnatural. We aren’t meant to die. But just because it’s unnatural doesn’t mean it has to be uncomfortable.
A couple of weeks ago, I went with my wife to a doctor’s appointment. They hooked up an ultrasound and began to scan my wife’s abdomen for signs of life to confirm the pregnancy test she had taken. Sure enough, as I looked at the screen, I could see clearly the placental sack and the small life moving in my wife’s womb. Joy leapt into my heart. God had blessed us with another child! My wife jokingly said, “Only one, right?” The nurse doing the ultrasound said, “Well, let me take a look.” She began to move the little thing around and I saw it the same time she did.
Another placental sack.
I began to smile as I looked at my wife. She was staring at the screen with a stunned look on her face. Then the nurse said, “Hmmm, something’s not right. This one looks a lot smaller.” My body felt like someone had just dumped a bucket of ice water on it and I said softly, “Oh no.” The nurse did some more scans then left, saying, “I’ll be right back.” My wife and I both just stared at the screen until the nurse came back. After another scan, she said something that I will never un-hear. “The other baby doesn’t have a heartbeat. I’m sorry.”
Death in its cold cruelty has again touched my family. My wife wept as I held her hand.
But then, almost immediately, something else happened. I was reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus when He said,
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
And the words of the prophet Job,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
I cried also. I cried for the child that we won’t know on this side of eternity. I cried because my wife was suffering such pain. I cried for my living children who will not get to meet their sibling right now.
But I also experienced great joy. The joy I have found is in the knowledge that our bodies will die, just as the physical body of our Lord Jesus died and was buried. My joy is found in the knowledge that Jesus was raised from the dead, being the first fruits of those who will be resurrected like Him one day. When that day comes, I will see my child. Oh, the joy of that day!
But I am also joyful because my child will never know pain. He/she will never know hunger or fear or sadness or disappointment or have scars or be cut from a team or break a bone or have their heart broken in unrequited love.
No, in the arms of the Creator, my child will only know the joy of the embrace of the Savior! Can you imagine?! In one moment, their little heart was beating in the safety of the womb. In the next moment, their eyes opened to see the glorious face of the Creator and Savior of the world! In His presence, there is fullness of joy forever and unto the ages of ages!
I am learning more of what it means to have a truly Christian view of the world and what it means to be human and be united to Christ. I know that my child is united to Christ in a way that I do not yet fully experience. But one day…. oh, one day, I will know full union with my Savior. And then, along with my child, my sister, my grandparents and all our God-bearing Fathers, we will know the glory and eternal rest of being fully restored to the glory we knew in the Garden.
Oh, what a day that will be! Until that day, we grieve for those who have fallen asleep. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Let us rejoice in the hope of resurrection!
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
One of the things that getting rid of all social media has done for me is to open up some time in my schedule. I was looking forward to a bit more time because I had not been reading much in the recent past.
I’m a reader. I love to read. Mostly I read a lot of theological type stuff, but I also really enjoy classical type literature and almost anything historical. I love a good story.
So, when this time opened up in my schedule, I knew I wanted to do some reading that was non theological. One of the books I wanted to read again was JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I read these stories for the first time in early high school and was just absolutely captivated by Tolkien’s storytelling. His stories have layers to them. I mean, dude invented the languages spoken by his characters in the books.
So, I’ve begun reading Tolkien’s massive work again. I have the three books all in one edition so it’s monstrous. My 7-year-old was looking at it the other day and said, “Whoa. That’s a big book.”
Love me some Tolkien.
Anyways, I’ve been reflecting a bit on the art of storytelling recently. I’ve noticed something that I think we don’t really want to think about too much these days. I heard a priest say this the other day on a podcast and it’s so true.
Not all stories have a happy ending.
How did you react to that statement just now? Do you agree or disagree? Does that make you feel sad or do you have a visceral kind of negative reaction?
Our society is obsessed with happy endings. Here’s what I mean. Our kids play in some type of sports thing and everybody gets a trophy (at least in the early years). We so desperately go out of our way in all parts of our lives to make sure that everyone feels “included” and “happy,” whatever those two words mean anymore. We insist that everyone be “equal.” We are obsessed with happy endings.
But this is simply not reality. In sports, everyone can’t win. Not everyone feels included and happy and not everyone is treated equally. This is the reality of life. Whether we like it or not, it just is. People get sick. Old age comes. Cancer happens. Car crashes happen. People lose their jobs. The media tells us that, if we’ll all just wear masks and socially distance ourselves or take this vaccine, we can all have a happy ending to the Covid-19 story.
But it’s just not reality.
I mean, if masks worked so well, why did the CDC tell us (via their website which they promptly took down) that 70% of the people who contracted Covid-19 were wearing masks when they contracted it? Why is it that a virus that has over a 99% survivability rate (without underlying co-morbidities) requires a vaccine?
Happy endings. We must have them. Even if we have to sacrifice our souls (as in being told we can only go to Mass in certain numbers thus prohibiting people from receiving the sacraments) or our well-being (like our jobs because the government decides who is “essential”) or the mental and social stability of our children (by closing down their schools).
We are so afraid of suffering and death that we will do anything to avoid it.
How very un-Christian. How very unlike our forefathers and fore-mothers in the Faith. How very unlike Christ.
He was unafraid of suffering and death. In fact, He welcomed it. He welcomed it because He knew the only way to save us was suffering and death.
And now, we who follow the Christ get to follow in His footsteps. He has blazed the trail before us. He has shown us how to embrace suffering and even death, knowing that on the other side of it is a happy ending. Stop running from suffering and trying to avoid death. Embrace it, knowing that you and I can participate in the suffering and death of Christ!
The truth is that we are obsessed with happy endings because, if we are in Christ by faith, the end of our story is happy. In fact, if we believe the Bible, it is unbelievably happy. There will be no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow, no more death. Only peace in the presence of the One who suffered and died so that we can have the happy ending our soul craves and cries out for!
Tolkien reminds us what awaits us,
““PIPPIN: I didn't think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so bad.
GANDALF: No. No, it isn't.”"
White shores and a far green country under a swift sunrise of joy that never ends…
St. John’s Apocalypse tells us,
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me: Write, for these words are most faithful and true. And he said to me: It is done. I am Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. To him that thirsteth, I will give of the fountain of the water of life, freely.” (Rev. 21:1-6, DR)
A new heaven and a new earth. God will dwell with us and us with Him. He will wipe away every tear and death shall be no more.
He is making all things new.
Happy endings, brothers and sisters!