CIESIELSKI: A spirituality for the end of life

April 9, 2019

Last week, as I cradled in my hands the receptacle with my brother Dominic’s cremated remains, I pondered his life in the brevity of human existence – a “puff of smoke” that is here today and gone tomorrow (James 4:14). His 67 years of earthly life used up, taken by cancer; he was now with our heavenly Father.

As people of faith, we live knowing that this earthly life is not the end of our existence but the vestibule for eternal life. The Office of Aging Ministry assists families with end-of-life planning by addressing practical tasks such as creating a will, preparing advance directives, and making funeral and cemetery arrangements. Such ministry includes a spirituality that encompasses two central tasks.

The first task is to reflect on God’s presence and goodness throughout our lives. This is essential to provide a sense of peace — that our lives have been purposeful in fulfilling the personal mission that God has entrusted to our care. Such reflection also allows us to complete or gain closure for any unfinished business in this endeavor.

The second task involves making preparations for our final journey to meet our Maker face-to-face. This entails saying our farewells to those we love and cherish, detaching from earthly possessions and centering more on the merciful heart of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

There are, of course, times when death comes like a thief in the night and the reflection process is cut short. Alternatively, when we try to ignore these tasks as if we might live forever. I am mindful of an alternative approach: to live each day as if it might be our last.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the great composer, who lived only to the age of 35, is said to have maintained a spirituality that each day could be his last. His parents impressed on their son a strong adherence to living the Catholic faith. His father wrote to him in 1777 that “God must come first! From His hands we receive our temporal happiness; and at the same time, we must think of our eternal salvation” (Solomon, 31).

As we journey with Jesus during Holy Week and the Easter season, we can see more clearly that it is not the longevity of life that brings us a sense of inner peace and contentment but rather being faithful to the Father’s will and mission. Our journey, whatever the pain and suffering, does not end in death but in God’s glory. That is Jesus’ promise to Martha and Mary on the occasion of their brother, Lazarus’ death. That is His promise to us (John 11:23-26).

As we age, we realize that all of our earthly comforts or pains shall pass away. That which is eternal, grounded in God’s love and mercy, is all that remains. That is God’s promise; that is our hope!

Mark Ciesielski is an associate director in the Archdiocesan Office of Aging Ministry.