Lots of interesting articles and reflections on our pandemic crisis have ended up in my e-mail inbox in the last weeks. One I found intriguing was titled “Pandemic narrows Americans’ cultural distance from death and dying” by Jesse Remedios in the National Catholic Reporter.
What he said made sense from my experience: I remember as a child going to funerals of relatives held in the home. The bodies were laid out in the living room or dining room. People were at home through a terminal illness with family members around them and caring for them until the end.
Now it is different: often people with terminal illnesses are cared for by professionals in hospices and funerals are almost always held in funeral homes or churches. His point was that, culturally, we avoid death, even speaking about it, and that the pandemic is an opportunity to face our fears and put death in a proper perspective.
Perhaps examining our attitude toward death is a good reflection as we celebrate Easter. For Christ, death was not the end but simply the prelude to resurrection. And Jesus has promised us that death is not the end for us, but simply a passage to new life.
Do I believe that? Then why am I afraid of death? For me part of the reason I am not rushing forward to embrace death is fear of the unknown. It is similar to the fear that I have when I am going to have an operation: even though everything has been explained to me and I “know” all will be OK, I have not experienced it before. I don’t like that. What will happen when I die? Will it hurt? Can I be sure I will go to heaven?
I have reconciled myself to the reality that fear of the unknown is a human reality that I will not escape. So I don’t expect to be rushing forward to embrace death. But I DO believe the promises that have been made to me: that there is life after death, that I will be united with Christ and my loved ones, and that all will be well. And our annual celebration of Easter reminds me of this. When I find myself a little nervous about death, I say with the father of the boy possessed with a demon: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
It will be weird for me not to celebrate the Easter Vigil after 44 years of doing so. But as I watch it, streamed either from Rome or our cathedral, I will reflect on the promises made to me by our Lord and the joy that will await me after this life. As I read somewhere (I can’t remember where), I am not in the land of the living waiting to go to the land of the dying; rather, I am in the land of the dying waiting to go to the land of the living.
I wish each of you a blessed Easter. Our Easter Sunday liturgy will be on the website by 8:00 am Easter Sunday morning. JESUS LIVES! ALLELUIA!