Reborn in the Spirit - The Death of a Christian

Our final communion in this life which we may receive when we are seriously ill or dying, has been traditionally called by its Latin name "Viaticum', which means "the way". It is the Sacrament of the Way ... to eternal life, to our Heavenly Father, in perfect peace.

At the end of our life it is time to go home.
God has kept his promise to us all of our life.
He will always remain faithful ...

There is a great consolation in our faith for anyone who has suffered the sadness and pain which accompanies the death of someone we love. For the faithful, life is changed, not ended, and the bond of union in the Body of Christ unites us still.

We can see that death to some extent is natural, since everything that lives on this earth dies if only to allow new life to spring up. That does not take away its pain. God did not make men and women to die. In fact, at first sight, the philosopher who said that death is absurd would seem to be right.

Life is of God

But then we read Paul, and we learn that death came into this world because of sin. That explains it. The only real life is of God. And his creatures are privileged to share it. When any creature tries to make itself independent of God, then it loses life. To be without God is to be dead. The wages of sin is death.

Death became the hallmark on human nature once man sinned. The Son of God became man so he took on the hallmark of human nature. He died because of sin. Now this is the miracle; he took our nature willingly, lovingly and accepted death as its price. And his love was such that death could not triumph over it. Christ's death defeated death itself. That is what makes the Cross of Christ the sign of victory over sin, because it was victorious over death.

Christ took men and women back to his Father. This meant he showed his love for his Father by giving his life totally. His death, then, was the way through to the Father, a stepping stone to the Father. Death could no longer have the last word; it had lost its sting. Death had become the gateway to the life of the resurrection. That does not take away the pain of the Cross but it gives it purpose. Love is shown in pain, and he who loves greatly suffers much.

The Christian is not better than Jesus Christ, nor has any other way to the Father been found but by the same way of the Cross. For some it is a light burden, for others heavy, but it is for everyone. Everyone must die, but we do it by stages. It is St Paul who tells us that we have died already in Baptism. It is clear what he means; we have died to sin. We must have, because we have begun to share in the new life of Christ risen from the dead.

That is what being a Christian means-sharing his life, literally. If we have risen, we must have died. Yes, we have died to sin, not finally, unfortunately, and that is the root of the problem. We can still sin, until the day we finally die. But every day in trying to die a little more to sin, the Christian lives more deeply in Christ.

If we make a success of that, dying in the end won't be a problem. It will simply be the confirmation of our whole life's purpose. Death will not break our union with Christ but establish it forever.


"Judgment" sometimes conveys images of a balancing act on the heavenly scales of justice; with the good actions of our life-time on the one side and the bad ones on the other. Or we think of the judgment as a trial in which God sums up, while we listen in agonized suspense, and then passes a decision which could have us dragged away screaming for mercy or protesting our innocence. But judgment is not like that at all.

The truth is that we will be our own judge. And we save or condemn ourselves according to the way we judge Christ. Such is the power of Christ's words that our salvation or condemnation depends on our reaction to them.

If we believe in Christ's words and accept them they will fill us with eternal life. But if we reject his words they will destroy us.

Go into a room on a summer evening when the sun is streaming through the window. The rays of the sun light up the room in a way that no artificial light can; everything seems transformed. But within those rays of light every little speck of dust and every little mark shows up with amazing clarity. The air about us is full of activity and hidden elements. Only by drawing a curtain and keeping out the bright sunlight can we eliminate such an exposure by the light.

The words of Christ have the power of light. They show us what is in a man or woman, but some cannot accept it. They try to "draw a curtain" to shut out the light that is Christ. "You want to kill me," says Jesus, "because nothing I say has penetrated into you." (John 8:37)

It is a sad truth that so often we resent the goodness in other people. Their virtue shows up our own faults and failings and so we try to bring them down to size, our size. We behave, indeed, as Christ's accusers did. We judge. And by our judgment we are condemned with our own lips.

It would be wrong therefore, to fear judgment as we fear the unknown. Judgment-and heaven or hell which follows-is known to us only too well. If our present life is one of hatred, of vengeance, walled up from the care of others, we are already experiencing something of the agony of hell. Our rejection of God and goodness because we prefer selfishness and sin, can only lead to a continuation of the world we have built up for ourselves in eternity. Men and women are not cast into hell; they themselves create it.

On the other hand, if our present life is one of trying to receive Christ's words by accepting his brothers and sisters, even to the extent of "giving a cup of cold water in his name", we need have no fear of what follows judgment. Christ's words of welcome will show us up for what we are, "Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world." (Matthew 25:34)

The Communion of Saints

A saint, from the Latin sanctus meaning holy, is one who shares in the divine life of Christ. The New Testament refers to the "poor saints in Jerusalem" and in Acts, Luke refers to Peter visiting the "saints in Lydda", one of whom he cured from paralysis. (Acts 9:32)

Saints are the sort of people who are never satisfied with a "doing what we've always done" approach to life. There is never the slightest chance of them falling into a rut, because saints are men and women who want to do what Jesus wants. And that can lead to a very exciting life. "They are led," wrote Fr. John Dalrymple, "into mad escapades of folly and scandal like Franz Jagerstatter refusing to serve in the German Army when everyone else did or, like Charles de Foucauld, going off to live with the Saharan Tuaregs as one of them."

Now this tendency to approach life in completely novel and fresh ways makes it very difficult to say exactly what a saint is. There is no ready-made mould into which we can pour the required virtues needed to make a saint.

We sometimes think we have the gift of recognizing true sanctity, but if it were possible to choose any saint from the Church's calendar and invite him or her to dinner, we will most likely get quite a shock. Plaster statues of very calm and quiet-looking saints serve to remind us that the saints are always ready to help and keep their memory before us. But they rarely capture the energy and enthusiasm of men and women who are always ready to turn the world on its head.

The truth, of course, is that many biographies of the saints down the years have made them out to be solemn-faced fanatics. Good fanatics, holy fanatics, but fanatics none the less. And that's a great pity, for it has left us with a stereotype image of the saint that not many of us fancy imitating. After all, who wants to be a fanatic?

To understand the true greatness of the saint, we have always to remember that saints are men and women of flesh and blood. The canonized saints were people with limitations just like the rest of us. They were people who allowed God's grace to work in them and, even after they had attained great holiness, kept their own distinctive personalities. First and foremost, a saint is a human being. What makes the saint different from the rest of us is a complete openness to the promptings of the Spirit.

There is a saint and a sinner in all of us. But if we do choose to be a saint, to follow the promptings of Spirit, we will be an entirely unique kind of saint. For as Evelyn Waugh once wrote, "There is only one saint that Bridget Hogan can actually become, St. Bridget Hogan. She cannot slip into heaven in fancy dress, made up as St. Joan of Arc."

New Life

Death is a rebirth. Our first birth is that moment when, as a baby, we break out from the womb into a new world. As a baby within the security of the womb we cannot contemplate what that outside world is like. Birth is a shocking experience yet it is necessary for life and for growth beyond imagination. In our present world, the womb in which we now live, we cannot speak intelligently of what awaits us. The Scriptures speak of death as a new birth when we break out of the womb and enter a new creation. The next world into which we are born is the kingdom of God beyond our imagining.

"I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us ... From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth: and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait of our bodies to be set free." Romans 8:18-23

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