Monday, November 2, 2020

What a happy death looks like.

In the Disneyland theme park, there is a very popular attraction called the Haunted Mansion, where one is taken on a ride through a tongue-in-cheek “scary” visit in the caverns of a mock haunted mansion where visual and audio effects serve to give the visitor thrills and chills at the same time.  At the very entrance of the ride the visitor is greeted with a notice that reads, “We are dying to meet you”, referring to the 999 happy haunts that one will encounter within.

I’ve always thought that this was not only a clever tag line, but also one, which every Christian ought to hold as dear and true in our hearts as we approach our dying days.  Our entire lives on this earth are meant to serve one final purpose, which is to ready ourselves to finally meet our Heavenly Father, whom we can only truly see and embrace after we have finished our lives on earth.  But we hardly give much thought to this truth, as we are often far too focused on the delights, thrills and joys that this life brings.  While this isn’t wrong in themselves, it is when we get too fixated with what this life gives us to experience that makes us unwilling and perhaps even unable to welcome death when it is our time to go, and see its positive dimension, which is the necessary gateway that all of us need to go through in order to reach the heavenly destination that we were all baptized for.

I don’t think it is a sweeping statement to say that all of us want heaven, even if the ways that we imagine it to be has great differences.  But few of us want it and long for it badly enough to be happy to go through the gateway of death for it.  Woody Allen put it in such a witty way when he said that he didn’t mind death, but just didn’t want to be there when it happened.  The prospect of heaven’s eternal bliss is indeed promising, but not so much the portal of death through which it is a sine qua non for every one of us.

We are reminded of the inevitability of our deaths each time All Souls’ Day comes round each year on November 2.  It may seem macabre to even want to think of death when we are in the prime of youth or when we are in the pink of health, but spiritually speaking, we need to rein it in a bit whenever we think that whatever joys and thrills that we are having in this life should be something that doesn’t end.  COVID has been very effective in reminding us of this fact.

But when we live with the awareness that our lives here are meant to pave the way toward our heavenly goal, it will help us to handle two things that are hardest to handle well – joys and disappointments.  We will see that all joys that we are given to experience in life are but foretastes of the eternal joy that only heaven can give, and won’t be too upset, unsettled or grieved when these are taken away from us.  As well, we will also see that all sadnesses that this life can give us, and this includes afflictions and sufferings do not have the last say, and if handled well, can even serve to make us live in great anticipation of heaven where ‘every tear will be wiped away’.  

It is the fruit of spiritual maturity that our acknowledgement of this reality doesn’t leave us blasé or sangfroid in life, because the spiritually mature person will still want to give his or her all in living and loving God with all one’s heart, mind and soul.  

What then is a happy death?  It is one in which one is very ready to fall into the arms of a loving God because one has lived this life in anticipation and readiness for that eternal fulfillment that only God can give, and can say like that sign at the Haunted Mansion “I have been dying to see God”.  Literally.

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