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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

Fear of dying

I was wondering if you had any advice for someone who is worrying about death?  [Recently] I started getting nervous about death. I talked to [family members about this worry], but it's still in my mind. I know I am still younger, but it worries me to think about others passing or what Heaven is like.

     Thank you for this honest question. Hoping that I am rightly answering the concerns addressed here, let me offer some answers to what heaven is like and “why” we need not fear death.

     In acknowledging the presence of death, it is of first importance to remember that God’s original plan in creation was not for His creatures to experience death. In His creative work, death was non-existent until the committing of the original sin. The book of Genesis shows us that the first man (Adam) was told that death would follow if he were to eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (see Genesis 2:17). Mindful that the command to not eat from this tree was a means of showing Adam his free will and therefore to show his (and our) capacity to choose to love God, a choice against what God had offered is to reject such freedom.  Death, for its part, is a consequence of the rejecting of the freedom that is only found in living in love and harmony with God – as the choice for God is a choice for life; whereas the choice against God is a choice for what is not of God, including death.

    The presence of death is a consequence of sin. However, it is for this very reason of the presence of death due to sin that God chose to come among us in the person of the Son, so that creation might be delivered from death. Through the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son (that is, of God taking on our human flesh in Jesus Christ) God takes on Himself our humanity and its fallen state so that He who is not subject to sin and death might undergo death so as to destroy it. Since Jesus is completely free from sin in His nature, there is nothing in Him deserving of death and thus death truly has no power over Him. Therefore, by accepting death, He (who is life) has the power to destroy death and to restore all who are subjected to death. This is our faith – that by entrusting ourselves to Jesus Christ, putting our lives fully in His hands (which is what it means to “believe” in Him) beginning with our receiving of baptism into Him and in the faithfully living of that baptism, though we still will die (just as He died) we will share in the power over death and forever be able to live in Him.

     These basics points of our faith from the beginning can also be considered from the other direction – that is, from the point of view of our eternal destiny. True life is in heaven – where all God’s children are forever united in the life and love of the Blessed Trinity. It is this life of heaven for which we have been made; life in this world is
transitory. While we are all born into this world first, our true call is to live for heaven – meaning that our approach to this life, with all of its beauties and joys along with its pains and sorrows, is to point us toward and to already partake of heaven (to the degree that such is possible). When you and I make choices rooted in love, we
experience already something of the nature of heaven. Likewise, when we receive graces from God in this life that are experienced as or lead to joy, peace, love, and the like, we receive something of what heaven will be like. It is these moments that can strengthen us to persevere through times of trial, suffering, loss, or any other difficulty. In this way, when death comes it is as a new beginning – passing from this world into the realm of eternity. If our lives in the world have been lived in faith (again – minding that such “faith” calls us to give ourselves fully to Jesus, who alone saves us) we can be confident that we will share in the life for which He made us. Realize that just as with Adam, the choice is ours: we can accept the way of Christ, giving ourselves to Him, receiving from Him what He desires for us (especially in the graces of the sacraments) and therefore live – or we can say, “No, I’m going my own way….” and reap the consequences.

     Might I, in offering these words, leave all with one proposal: that if you live each day longing for heaven, desiring it so that your choices in this life are lived in reference to heaven, you will find great joy in living here on earth for whatever time you are
given. Desire for heaven – for it will lead you to let Jesus take you there.

 

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