Prepare to Die
Wrote this while two people in my life are actively dying, Mr. John Meehan, a friend and mentor, and my cousin’s husband, Larry Winger. May God grant them peace…
Well, I’m feeling better – yes! The pneumonia and bronchitis that could have killed my crippled, crumpled little body didn’t, new medication stopped my seemingly endless menstrual flow (and another new medication is on the horizon to, hopefully, shrink the huge uterine fibroids) and the usual treatment was able to put a mild Crohn’s disease flareup at ease. Phew. There is always the knowledge that I could catch another chest cold at any time, but I’m trying not to live in worry anymore.
And, of course, I still can’t walk, move my arms, hold my head upright, take care of myself, or breathe without rocking my body, but, for me, that’s just everyday, like the small stuff. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Because of all this, I feel a little more deeply into the season of Lent, which began with the reminder “Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Lent, as I have written before, isn’t about doom and gloom but, rather, about preparing to live eternally – yet, this is also a what makes Lent a really good time of year to prepare to die. Having recently experienced the fragile mortality of my body in an up close and personal way, I have been thinking about death more – and differently. Preparing to live eternally and preparing to die are, in reality, the same thing.
Are You Prepared to Die?
Death is part of life and, so, it should be lived. In our mainstream culture, we often think that it’s morbid, unhealthy, and just plain wrong to think about dying while we are living. Many people don’t even want to talk about death at all. It’s as though we think that, if we don’t think about it or talk about it, then it won’t come.
Ha. It’s coming, like it or not.
Death isn’t evil. If it was, then God wouldn’t have chosen to go through it. Now, of course, God Godself didn’t die – the Divine Nature of Jesus, God Incarnate, never ceased, never ceases. But, the human nature of Jesus experienced death – he died, bodily. Dead. Absolutely. Christ chose to die, we could say, in order to put to death our fear of death – for he rose from the dead to offer all of us eternal life with him in the unimaginable bliss and glory of heaven. Mystery of Mysteries…
What Would Jesus Do
It’s always good to remember that thinking about his own dying filled Jesus with dread and agony. He knew it was going to hurt. A lot. Jesus is fully human, after all, as well as fully divine. And, I believe it’s right to say that Jesus was in no way eager to leave his loved ones behind – even though he knew he was going forward to prepare a place for them eternally. Jesus knew that life is beautiful – because he lived it. He fully lives it.
Accordingly, Jesus made preparations for his own death, for the end of his earthly life. He gave the keys of his kingdom to Peter, instructing his apostles to spread the good news and the sacraments – and, in a poignant scene of love and sorrow on the Cross, Jesus told his beloved disciple, John, to look after his mother and asked his mother to hold this young disciple as her own son.
I believe that I, too, am called to prepare for my own death – for the end of my earthly life. We all are.
Not a Bucket List
Some people’s approach to this might be to put together a “bucket list” of things to do before they die. But, that’s almost like saying, “Quick, let’s do all of the fun stuff that we can before it’s too late!” That’s not preparing to die. That is, again, reacting to death with fear. They are so afraid that they will miss out on something that earthly life has to offer (and I do mean some thing) that they spend enormous time and effort (and sometimes money) to get in as much as they can in order to avoid regret.
People, indeed, believe that the best way to die is to die without regrets. (And I do hate regret.) But… Am I really going to regret not seeing the Grand Canyon when the infinite and glorious vista of Paradise stretches out before me? Am I really going to regret not eating a sumptuous seven course meal in one of the world’s finest restaurants when I am being filled to overflowing with the exquisite and inexorable richness of Divine Love, pouring over my faculties with endless savory, spicy, sweetness? I think not.
But, if I fail to love in this life, if I fail to recognize God in the person next to me, in the poor, the hungry, and the friendless, then I might not be spiritually able to receive God’s pure love in the eternal joy of the life to come. Now, that would be something to regret.
Making the List
My little list in preparation for death, therefore, has God at its center – and it is also very practical. May it help me to judge wisely the things of earth – and to love greatly the things of heaven, the eternal things in which I will live forever with Christ.
Tune in next week to see my list: Preparing for Death in 5 Easy Steps.
© 2017 Christina Chase
Photograph of me, © Dan Chase, please do not copy or reproduce without permission;
Artwork from the Church History Museum Collection on the Atonement of Jesus Christ – Gethsemane, Crucifixion, Resurrection
Christina Chase View All
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.
You are inspiring and doing humanity a good service by reminding us of heaven. Indeed, that is the only thing on my so-called bucket list: think of heaven and the glory of God today.
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That’s a beautiful thought – thank you for reflecting with me!
Peace, Christina. You bring thar to us with your writings, which are powerful but not unsettling. I shall come back to this often during the rest of Lent and straight through Easter/Pascha and the week following (often called “Bright Week” in Orthodox churches)
“Bright Week” – I like it! I will be keeping that in mind. Thank you, as always, for reflecting with me.
Hi Christina. I have a few questions. First off, I completely agree with the idea of learning and preparing to live eternally, by preparing to die. But why do you say that death is not evil? Christ Himself said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV). Death was not created by God, but rather was introduced because of sin (Genesis 3:2-3,19). I completely understand that it should not be feared– Jesus took the sting out of death for those who Love Him (1 Corinthians 15:55). But does make it not evil? I just wanted to see where you are coming from.
My second question is based on your paragraph: “But, if I fail to love in this life, if I fail to recognize God in the person next to me, in the poor, the hungry, and the friendless, then I might not be spiritually able to receive God’s pure love in the eternal joy of the life to come. Now, that would be something to regret.” Do you mean that you (being saved by Grace, through faith) will not be able to experience the fullness of heaven the instant you die because of works (or a lack of good works)? What about “to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)? Again, not trying to be quarrelsome, but was just wondering.
In any case, thank you for sharing your thoughts in this post!
In Christ Alone,
Isaiah 62 Prayer Ministry
Hi Annalee, thank you for reflecting with me and thank you for your questions.
To clarify, yes, death entered the world when sin entered the world, we could then, I suppose, call it evil in that light. But, I am referring to death for us who are alive now, in light of Salvation and eternal life in Heaven. Is it really bodily death that Jesus refers to as the theif that comes “to steal and kill and destroy” in John 10:10? That entire section of Sacred Scripture would need many, many more comments for full understanding. And, as I have written in this blog, I am not an expert on Scripture. I simply love Christ and strive to understand his teachings as best as I can in order to intimately follow him.
If you have studied this passage in depth and have further comments to share, please feel free to do so here.
I find I might need more information regarding your second question, specifically, what “to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” means in your understanding. Taking a look at the whole paragraph: “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” St. Paul says that we are to receive our due for the things done while we are in our bodies… So, we are not saved by faith alone in the sense that faith without works is dead.(James 2:17) Jesus tells his disciples that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter Heaven.(Matthew 7:22-23) There will be some he will not know – why? Because when he was hungry they did not feed him, when he was a stranger the didn’t welcome him…(Matthew 25:31-46)
I truly appreciate you and your thoughts! I do not find it quarrelsome at all. Thank you for sharing and I hope you’ll continue to reflect with me here.
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Christina, thank you for being willing to answer my questions and dig deeper into the Sacred Scripture. I understand the essence of what you mean by death not being evil– like I said before, Christ removed that sting, and we shall be with Him. But, John 10:10 is talking about physical death, along with every other destructive thing that causes death (the sin and brokenness in our world, namely.) After all, every bit of stealing, killing, and destroying satan wants to do can culminate in the physical– or, even worse, spiritual death — of that person.
I guess my second question was, “Do you believe works affect salvation– being immediately with Christ after one dies?”
So glad to see your response, Annalee. Explorations into Sacred Scripture are fascinating on so many levels! For instance, thank you for sharing your understanding of John 10:10. Jesus is attacking the Pharisees through this allegory, after he has cured the man born blind. My understanding (through teachings received) is that the “hired man” represents the Pharisees. The thief that comes “to steal and slaughter and destroy” would represent Satan, right? As you wrote, the worst thing that could happen to a person would be spiritual death. Although I can see how you could possibly read the thief in John 10:10 as bodily death, or Death, what about John 10:8? “All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.”
To come back to your second question, which I thank you for verifying, my answer is yes. I think that the passage that you cited in your first comment, from 2 Corinthians 5, is one of many in the Bible that shows this. Do you have something to add or something with which you do not agree from my original comment on this question?
Christina, thank you for further wanting to speak about this. I agree that John 10:8 is speaking about the Pharisees, but I read John 10:10’s usage of the “thief” not as Death itself, but as satan, causing both spiritual and physical death– every kind of destruction, be it emotional, physical, relational, spiritual, etc. The Pharisees, filled with evil hatred toward Christ, were not doubt spurred on by satan, do you agree?Do we have a difference in reading that the thief is satan in John 10:10? I am unsure. I am sorry if my last message made it sound like I believed bodily death, or Death, was the “thief” in John 10:10.
As for your reply to my second question, I don’t agree that salvation is works based. Referring to 2 Corinthians 5, I believe that Paul is not talking about if we get to enter heaven, based on our works/lack of them. I believe he is referring to the “Bema Seat of Christ,” talked about in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. I’ve included verses 10:15 for context. “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
Note that it describes Believers gaining or losing *rewards* based on good/bad works, but never affects gaining or losing salvation. To say that the good or evil we do or don’t do, as described in 2 Corinthians 5:9, will keep us from complete fellowship with God in Heaven, goes against the rest of Paul’s writings about Grace being a gift. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Furthermore, Christ was, and is, the complete propriation for every one our sins (Romans 5:23)! To be at all judged for heaven based on works negates this; when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He really did all that was needed to absolve someone who believes on Him of all sin, making us perfect. “For by one offering He hath perfected for ever those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
I pray this all makes sense. I am not an expert either; thank you for letting me say this, here.
Faith without works is dead; but those works should come from a genuine faith and love for Christ, who forever declared us not guilty (Romans 3:24), not as a means to the eternal salvation already freely given to each Believer who trust in Christ.
With alll of this being said (sorry for the novel!), I praise Jesus for you!!
If you have read this far, feel free to email me through the contact button at my blog, if you want to have further dialogue but don’t want it in your comment section. Whatever you would like, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
This was a lot, please forgive me for sounding like a “know it all.” “…But knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). I pray I have built you up, not tore you down.
Looking forward to your answer.
I like having our discussion here so that others may read it, too. Perhaps, it will be thought-provoking for them or, perhaps, they have something valuable they would like to add. You don’t sound like a know it all, simply someone who loves Jesus and cares enough about her faith to share it with others – that’s a good thing! And I have been known to write a few “novels” as comments, myself… Perhaps I will do so here… 🙂
Very glad am I that you cleared up your thoughts for me on the John 10 section. I never read the thieves or hired man as bodily death, or Death, but, rather, as Satan or those influenced by Satan (including Pharisees). So, we share the same understanding on that one!
On to the next, which is a big and profound question.
I do believe that Hell is real as I believe that Heaven is real. We are given the gift of Heaven through Christ Jesus (and only through him) whose suffering, sacrifice, resurrection, and ascension open up the door to eternal bliss for us, so to speak. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” If our faith in Christ is true, and not merely some words that we have professed, then, after we die, we will have eternal life in Heaven.
But, then there is your question, which, at one point you phrased like this: “Do you believe works affect salvation– being immediately with Christ after one dies?” To this, I simply answered yes… But there is a phrase that I really wanted to expound on and explore further – so now I’m taking the opportunity.
What does “immediately” mean after our souls have left our bodies? We are used to time in an earthly sense, upon our spinning planet with our finite sun. But, what will we experience when earthly limitations are removed, when we no longer see “as through a glass darkly” or “as in a mirror dimly” and are entering into Paradise to see face to face, in the pure presence of God? My answer: I don’t know.
Having said that, I think I know what your question means. My answer: I don’t believe that committing a sin damns me to Hell. Truly, who would survive?
Nobody is perfect. As Christians, we still commit sins. We are sinners. But Christ has redeemed us, he has saved us from eternal punishment for our sins. This is, indeed, Good News! There will be those who never truly accepted Christ although their lips may have spoken a profession, who never fed the hungry, welcomed a stranger, or cared for anyone. I don’t know what’s going to happen to them, but Jesus said it isn’t good. If we truly accept Christ as Lord and Savior and have once welcomed a stranger, or fed a hungry person, or taken care of someone who is sick, then we are truly living our faith and keeping God’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. For the times we have been neglectful, the times when we have passed those by who are in need, we are sorry, truly penitent, and turn to God’s mercy. Trusting in God’s mercy, we know that, through Christ, we will be forgiven and enter into Heaven.
Even if we do maybe enter Heaven as though through flames.
As you point out, the Bible does tell us about rewards. And these rewards are based on works. But, I don’t believe that God is keeping a scorecard, adding up our “good works”, so that we can check into a nice place in the afterlife. That doesn’t sound like love at all! And God is love. I confess that I have difficulty with the concept of “rewards”. I don’t want any greater reward than anyone else – I just want to be purely with God forever.
Because God loves us, He, too, wants us to be fully embraced in the bliss of His pure presence – hence the purifying…
I do believe that, when we die, as we transition into Heaven as true believers, we will be purified and purged of all that is not of God. As you shared: “… their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
When we fail to love, we repent and ask God’s forgiveness, trusting in God’s Infinite Mercy. And, when we die, our faith will save us from Hell – and we will be purified. What we’ve done with the gifts that God has given us will be tested, as by fire. Some may not experience a burning up of anything – but, others will. They will enter into Heaven by the grace of God, but they will do so as through flames.
I’d rather not enter through flames. Although, I am ever grateful to God for the entering. And, so, I strive to recognize Christ in everyone that I encounter and to love as Christ loves me, and to use my talents wisely for God’s Kingdom. God knows I am so very often pathetic in my attempts. God knows I fail. God knows I am a sinner. But, God also knows what is in my heart and sustains and encourages me in His great mercy.
I don’t know what will happen when my soul leaves my body – except that I will be with God. What that transition from this life to the next will be like, I don’t know. I don’t really need to know. I have faith that all be as God wills.
The idea of rewards might always be a puzzle to me, but I would like to learn more. So, if you are inclined, please share your thoughts here on what “rewards” mean. Thank you very much for reflecting with me – and for reading my “novel”! 🙂 (Even longer than yours!) 🙂
And I didn’t even get to thoughts on what happens to non-Christians who truly love…but, that will have to be another time.
With love and appreciation,