Of all the lines in the Hail Mary prayer that are beautiful and relevant to our lives, I consider the last one to be not only most significant but also highly necessary as we are people who are ‘in the vale of tears’, journeying from life here to the next. We say, “pray for us now, and at the hour of our death.”
If we take this in the most literal sense, then we are asking Mary to intercede and pray for us at the last sixty minutes of our earthly existence before the ECG machine shows a flatline. Yes, this is good and even necessary, but that would be leaving things quite literally to the eleventh hour. We Catholics are not last minute people, and are known to take pride in the lost art of delayed gratification and remote preparation; so certainly, this must apply to things as exigent as death. What are we really praying for then?
The Catholic believes that at many many moments, dotted throughout each day, we face a choice of sometimes more than two options before us. This can be in things as simple and mundane like what to eat, and what to wear, to life altering options like what jobs to take or which life-partner we should be considering. At each of these junctures there is a need to discern. It would vex the mind to no end if we think that we need to do serious discernment at the food court to make the ‘proper’ choice between a bowl of noodles or a slice of pizza. Some things are best left to simple preference or the dictates of our growling stomachs.
But there will be moments when the choice bears far more consequences for our soul. For instance, when being faced with either speaking the truth resulting in being personally inconvenienced or fudging the facts so that our lives are not shifted out of our zones of comfort. Or when it becomes very obvious that living as disciples of Christ becomes the much harder thing to do especially when displaying such life options results in our being discriminated against. Speaking up for the truth and justice, especially when doing that can result in our being sidelined and bypassed for a promotion is a very hard choice to make. Making the choice for the harder and more selfless option results in a dying to the self.
It is this dying that we are asked to attune ourselves to as true disciples of the Lord. Our weak human selves will do all we can to want to justify the choice that serves the self more than it serves the overall good of humankind. And it will feel like a dying when we know that the choice we make doesn’t give us much room for earthly happiness. This is the ‘hour’ of death for which we need Mary’s prayers the most.
The problem becomes compounded when we do not even consider that these moments are moments of any form of ‘dying’. When we resist these little deaths each day, we become ill prepared for that great death that we will all have to face when our time here is up.
One of my spiritual gurus in my training once told us “only when have trained well for our daily little deaths will we be ready to face the great death.” But we are indeed blessed to not have to die these small deaths alone. We have the assured prayers of our Blessed Mother to aid us to die a little, at each of these hours of death, so that if we die before we die, we will not die when we die.