Have you ever had the honor of sitting with and talking with someone who was preparing for their final Passover, i.e., preparing for death? It is an awesome privilege when people share their hopes, fears, and faith at that moment of life. Often times we don’t talk openly about dying. When someone says he or she is dying, in our discomfort we often avoid and deny it, saying something like, “Oh, don’t say that, it will be OK.” A better response might be, “Tell me about it.” Every once in a while someone does want to share their thoughts and feelings, perhaps to take care of some unfinished business, or say their final goodbyes. There opportunities are one of the many privileged moments in being a priest.
When I was in the seminary, one of our friars was diagnosed with cancer. Fr. Bill was one of the kindest men I have ever met. One of my fond memories is how every morning he would walk from table to table offering each person a banana. When it became clear that nothing more could be done, he said that he wanted to die at home, and not in the hospital or nursing home. As he neared the end, we took turns sitting with him 24/7, for an hour at a time. We would sit with him as he rested. Sometimes we were silent, other times we would pray with him, read Scripture, or he would talk with us about his life, his memories, and his coming death. I remember him telling me that he knew he would be gone in a few days, and he was right. One evening a couple of days later, it was my turn to sit with him, but he died ten minutes before I came. As the word spread through the house his room began to fill up with friars. We prayed, sang, told stories, and even laughed as we celebrated his life while we waited for the funeral director to come for his body. I remember it felt odd when the funeral director put a sheet over his face. We didn’t need to hide his face or cover up his death. We had been sitting with him, face uncovered, for two hours! His death was not something he or we kept hidden; it was something he embraced and shared.
Fr. Bill’s death was not something that happened to him; his life was not taken from him; it was something that he did with consciousness and faith. He freely, actively, and eagerly handed his life over to the Lord. It was his final act of prayer and surrender, which was prepared for by the kind of life he lived. His death was a gift he shared with all the members of the community.
This week we are privileged to share another death, the death of Jesus. We join him as he enters Jerusalem, and we enter a sacred time. We sit with him at the table as He washes feet and breaks the bread and shares the wine, giving them new and deeper meaning and significance. We spend time with him in the garden and walk the way of the cross. We stand at the foot of the cross with Mary and the disciples. What a great privilege for us to share this death, too. He teaches us how to live; he teaches us how to die. May you have a blessed week.