By Nathanael Check
We might have a whole host of answers if someone asked us, “What are you looking forward to?” However, I am willing to bet that there is one thing, one reality, that would never cross our minds when replying.
Yet I am going to suggest that this reality is something we all must look forward to. We’ll get to that in a moment.
First, how do we look forward to something? I think of two ways.
For example, children look forward to Christmas morning with eager anticipation of the good things to come: presents, celebration and time with family. As we mature, it is good to retain and even cultivate in our own hearts this childlike joy.
This joy fuels the desire for good that is built into our nature. It is a desire that ranges from longing for our favorite meal to the noble impulses that make us sacrifice our time for the service of others.
The second way we look forward to something is by preparing for it. Though I hope you will never hear any sensible person say that he is looking forward to an upcoming test in mathematics, when we say that we look forward to something, we mean to make ourselves ready for it.
Just as we impatiently waited for Christmas morning as children, so too we prepared for that day by decorating the house and sticking to our best behavior, and there is a real joy in this preparation.
Well then, what is this reality that I propose we all look forward to—not only with careful preparation but with joy in our hearts as well? That reality is our death.
Now who, you might ask, would have the bad manners to bring up so morbid a topic as death? I assure you: the hour of our death should be every bit a joyful occasion.
Notice I did not say a happy occasion. So, if joy is not the same as happiness, what is joy, and why should we look forward to our death with joy?
Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that joy is the immediate response of our soul when it receives something good that we love. There is emotional joy, which takes delight in a good that is present, such as sunshine or today’s celebration.
There is also spiritual joy, which is a satisfaction of our longing for the highest Good. What is the highest Good? Our Creator.
In fact, as St. Augustine reminds us, we were created with the desire to be united fully with God. It is why we will never experience the fullness of joy in this earthly life.
If there is no greater joy than perfect union with God, then shouldn’t we look forward to this union’s necessary antecedent that is our final hour? Is it wrong to call death joyful if it delivers us from the pains of this life and into the blessedness of the next?
Should we not look forward to our death, not only with careful preparation through a life of virtue, but also with joyful anticipation?
If you agree, and I hope that you do, perhaps you’re now wondering how best we can look forward to or prepare for our death. The answer is to live a life filled with joy and love.
That is an easy thing to say, but what does it mean?
Seek the good in this world. Read books, make music, eat good food with your friends, share stories, throw late-night parties, go on adventures and bring your friends with you.
More than these delights, seek the good of your neighbor. Give company to the lonely and the homeless. Show mercy to your offenders.
Fill your heart with generosity. Counsel the doubtful. Offer your prayers for the unborn. Lead others to the good by your example.
As you fill your life with love for God and neighbor, your deep longing to be made whole will grow ever closer to fulfillment until finally—God willing—we are all reunited with God and each other in perfect communion and eternal joy.
Let me close with two specific recommendations: put your death in the care of St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death. Why? Because he lived a life of complete service to God, to Jesus and to Mary.
The second recommendation: put your life every day in the care of St. Joseph’s holy spouse, Mary the Mother of God.
Mary is the source of the best advice ever given in human history. Pointing to her Son, she said to the wine stewards at the wedding feast at Cana, “do whatever he tells you.”
Follow her advice.