Essay / Theology

On Dying

John Paul the Great continues to show the world how a good man dies. Men die every day and most die badly. A few brave men die each week and we mourn their loss. Courage is too rare in a culture where we think it noteworthy to survive standing in line at the DMV. Most precious of all is the chance to watch a good man die, because good men are so rare. Courage is a virtue, but it is least of all the virtues. It can exist in a wicked man as well as a good man. To be good, to contain within yourself an imperfect expression of the very nature of God, is much for rare. My grandfathers’ generation had more examples, because they lived in a culture that lived to die well. Virtue of this complete sort requires a lifetime of sanctification, growth towards holiness. Of course, there are a few who receive the special grace to be holy at a very young age, but this is even more rare.John Paul the Great is an example of the most common sort of saintly life. He is a good man, because he has lived well. He started out as all of us do with problems. His external problems, growing up a Polish nation controlled first by Hitler and then by Stalin, were far worse than most of us face. He used those circumstances to deny himself and so found himself. The greatest lie of our particular therapeutic age is that we can find happiness by looking for it. We can only find happiness by denying the wicked side of our selves and allowing God’s free grace to do what we cannot do ourselves and transform us on the inside. If we do this, then dying is no longer a curse. Of course dying first came to man, because his rebellion against his Creator made it necessary. Dying is not a punishment for an angry God, but the necessary last step in a transformation that can lead to our redemption and eternal joy. Men cannot be happy as we are. We are estranged from the world and from our Father in Heaven. We are all given a certain measure of time in this life to change. We can receive the divine grace of God which he brought to us in the Incarnation and Passion of Himself. He came and took on human flesh, suffered our pains though He did not need to do so, and showed us the way. After this, because we are still too stupid and weak to follow, our Father provides the necessary energy, grace, within each person to make change possible. This new nature which religious people call holiness is possible to all men if they will have it. We can enjoy the start of a divine life now and simply wallow in it for all eternity, but to get to eternity we will have to die. John Paul the Great did not begin his life with greatness. He was transformed by piety (how moderns hate that word!) and the Holy Spirit. He now dies in peace and dignity. He was a knight who was used of God to slay dragons. The first dragon such a knight must slay, and is a lifetime battle for this beast has many heads, is the evil in his own heart. John Paul has nearly finished that battle. Only a man engaged in such a war can turn to the external foe. Communism could only be defeated by such goodness. To such men death becomes more of a reward than a curse. At least the great knight, the shining Knight of Christendom, the Bishop of Rome, can lay down his sword. He can enter into Divine rest. He has become fit for Paradise. Viewed this way all the sufferings of this time and all the evils a man can experience are worthwhile. Joy is coming John Paul the Great and then reward and a well done from your God.What will we do? Shall we cling to our life here and so lose both it and the life of the world to come? Will we allow the Holy Spirit to change us? Will we deny ourselves and take up a cross and follow Christ? Will we do as you have done John Paul the Great? Or shall we cling to our foul and petty rebellion and our trendiness and be fools? As you fade into Eternity pray for us John Paul the Great. Pray that we give ourselves to divine Grace through faith which alone can save us through the eternal work of Jesus Christ, the Dying God who Lives.

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