A Grateful Death
When we think about death, we often think about what will happen to us after we have died. But it is more important to think about what will happen to those we leave behind. The way we die has a deep and lasting effect on those who stay alive. It will be easier for our family and friends to remember us with joy and peace if we have said a grateful good-bye than if we die with bitter and disillusioned hearts.
The greatest gift we can offer our families and friends is the gift of gratitude. Gratitude sets them free to continue their lives without bitterness or self-recrimination.
A Grateful Death
|The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism.
Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil) and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted.
When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan.
In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.
She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death.
Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his Confessions.
Today, with Internet searches, e-mail shopping, text messages, tweets and instant credit, we have little patience for things that take time. Likewise, we want instant answers to our prayers. Monica is a model of patience. Her long years of prayer, coupled with a strong, well-disciplined character, finally led to the conversion of her hot-tempered husband, her cantankerous mother-in-law and her brilliant but wayward son, Augustine.
When Monica moved from North Africa to Milan, she found religious practices new to her and also that some of her former customs, such as a Saturday fast, were not common there. She asked St. Ambrose which customs she should follow. His classic reply was: “When I am here, I do not fast on Saturday, but I fast when I am in Rome; do the same and always follow the custom and discipline of the Church as it is observed in the particular lo locality in which you find yourself.
|Pius XII established this feast in 1954. But Mary’s queenship has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship. We can also recall that in the Old Testament the mother of the king has great influence in court.
In the fourth century St. Ephrem (June 9) called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.” The Dominican rosary and the Franciscan crown as well as numerous invocations in Mary’s litany celebrate her queenship.
The feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In his 1954 encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.
As St. Paul suggests in Romans 8:28–30, God has predestined human beings from all eternity to share the image of his Son. All the more was Mary predestined to be the mother of Jesus. As Jesus was to be king of all creation, Mary, in dependence on Jesus, was to be queen. All other titles to queenship derive from this eternal intention of God. As Jesus exercised his kingship on earth by serving his Father and his fellow human beings, so did Mary exercise her queenship. As the glorified Jesus remains with us as our king till the end of time (Matthew 28:20), so does Mary, who was assumed into heaven and crowned queen of heaven and earth.
“Let the entire body of the faithful pour forth persevering prayer to the Mother of God and Mother of men. Let them implore that she who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers may now, exalted as she is in heaven above all the saints and angels, intercede with her Son in the fellowship of all the saints. May she do so until all the peoples of the human family, whether they are honored with the name of Christian or whether they still do not know their Savior, are happily gathered together in peace and harmony into the one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 69).
This discussion of the Catholic Doctrine of Mary's Assumption, defined by Pope Pius XII as a dogma of faith, originally appeared as an article on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in Our Sunday Visitor.
I once asked a college theology class if anyone could explain the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. A student replied, “yeah, that’s the teaching whereby the Catholic Church ‘assumes’ that Mary is in heaven.”
There’s a bit more to the dogma of the Assumption than that. The Church does not just “assume” that any canonized saint in is in heaven. Rather, it authoritatively declares that a person is in glory and should therefore be honored in liturgy and imitated in life. Our church calendar is filled with saints' days.
But why a particular day for each saint? The first evidence for this goes back to 155AD, to a bishop named Polycarp. The account of his martyrdom notes that after his execution, the faithful collected his bones, more precious than gold, and put them in a place of honor where every year they gathered to celebrate the anniversary of his death as a sort of “birthday” into eternal life. Celebrating Mass in the catacombs over the relics of the martyrs' led to the practice of putting relics in the main altar of every church. Eventually saints who did not die a martyrs death were also commemorated on their heavenly “birthday” and their relics were accorded great honor.
From very early times, August 15 has been observed as the “birthday” of our Blessed Lady. On this greatest of all Marian feasts we celebrate the greatest moment of her life – being permanently re-united with her son and sharing his glory.
All the saints experience the “beatific vision” upon their entry into heaven, and we celebrate this on every saint’s day. But there is something unique about Mary’s day. The Catholic Church teaches authoritatively that it is not just Mary’s soul that was admitted to God’s glory, but that at the end of her earthly life, Mary’s body as well as her soul was assumed into heaven by the loving power of God.
There is no eyewitness account of this actual event recorded in the Bible. Come to think of it, though, no one witnessed the actual resurrection of Jesus either. The evidence was an empty tomb and eyewitness reports that the Risen Lord had appeared to them.
Interesting parallel here. There is a tomb at the foot of the Mt. of Olives where ancient tradition says that Mary was laid. But there is nothing inside. There are no relics, as with other saints. And credible apparitions of Mary, though not recorded in the New Testament, have been recorded from the 3rd century till today.
Mary is not equal to Christ, of course. Jesus, though possessing a complete human nature, is the Eternal Word made flesh. Mary is only a creature.
But she is a unique creature, the highest of all creatures. This is not just because she was born without the handicap of original sin. Eve and Adam were born free of sin as well, but it did not stop them from sinning as soon as they had the chance. Mary instead chose, with the help of God’s grace, to preserve her God-given purity throughout the whole of her life.
The bodily corruption of death was not God’s original plan. It came into the world through sin, as St. Paul says “the sting of death is sin” (I Cor 15:56). So it is fitting that she who knew no sin should know no decay and no delay in enjoying the full fruits of her son’s work. It is fitting that she who stood by Christ under the cross should stand by him bodily at the right hand of the Father. “The Queen stands at your right hand, in gold of Ophir” (Ps 45). Enoch and Elijah, who the Old Testament says were assumed into heaven, were surely great in God’s eyes. But they do not begin to compare with the immaculate mother of His Son.
We too, one day, insofar as we accept God’s grace, will stand at His right hand. But Paul says that “all will come to life again, but each one in proper order” (I Cor 15:23). The Redeemer, of course, blazes the resurrection trail. But who is to be first among his disciples? The one who is last is first, the Lord’s humble handmaid who did no more than say yes, and keep saying yes, and whose soul magnified not herself, but the Lord.
“Christ, like a skillful physician, understands the weakness of men. He loves to teach the ignorant and the erring he turns again to his own true way. He is easily found by those who live by faith; and to those of pure eye and holy heart, who desire to knock at the door, he opens immediately. He does not disdain the barbarian, nor does he set the eunuch aside as no man. He does not hate the female on account of the woman’s act of disobedience in the beginning, nor does he reject the male on account of the man’s transgression. But he seeks all, and desires to save all, wishing to make all the children of God, and calling all the saints unto one perfect man” (Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist)
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