November is the month when the Catholic Church invites us to think about death. The Feast of All Saints honors those countless holy men and women who lived out their faith and remained faithful to the gospel. On All Souls Day we remember and pray for our beloved dead as well as those dead who have no one to pray for them. We do not know how our prayer makes a difference, but our faith teaches and we believe that it does. Many of our assigned scripture readings for daily and Sunday Masses have to do with death and the end of the world.
Ann Marie Flood was born into a German Catholic family in 1900. She married into an Irish Catholic family when my Grandpa Bernard and she pledged themselves to each other for life. Together they raised five children and did their best to share the light of their faith with them. Most Catholics of her generation prayed for a happy death and carried a card in their a card in their wallet announcing in these or similar words, “I am a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In case of emergency, please call a priest.”
My grandparents did not think New York City was a place to raise their children. When he refused an assignment there his “punishment” was being sent from Columbus, Ohio into exile in Parkersburg, WV. They both looked after and often helped their local priests and countless Visitation and Poor Child Jesus sisters.
She was a pray warrior who stormed heaven on behalf of her family, friends, neighbors, and fellow parishioners. One thing she always prayed for was a happy death.
At the age of ninety-two she was diagnosed with cancer and decided that she would forgo radiation and chemotherapy. In almost 30 years as a priest, I have noticed that most of the time someone that age seems to suffer less when letting nature take it’s course. So happily the pain was less and managed quite well.
So how is that someone who dies of cancer can have a happy death? She had time to prepare herself spiritually and emotionally. She had time to say her goodbyes and to hear people tell her what an impact she made in their lives. Her prayers for a happy death were answered because there was a priest praying with her at the time of her death. In fact, she died as he was giving the Commendation of the Dying:
I commend you, my dear brother/sister,
to almighty God,
and entrust you to your Creator.
May you return to the one
who formed you from dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to met you as you go forth from this life.
May Christ who was crucified for you
bring you freedom and peace.
May Christ who died for you
admit you into his garden of paradise.
May Christ, the true Shepherd,
acknowledge you as one of his flock.
May he forgive all your sins,
and set you among those he has chosen.
May you see you Redeemer face to face,
and enjoy the vision of God forever. Amen.
Lots of people say they want a happy death. I wonder how many of them pray for a happy death. Here is the Prayer for a Happy Death by the Venerable Bede (673-735):
If it so please my Maker,
it is time for me to return to Him
who created me and formed me
out of nothing when I did not exist.
I have lived a long time, and
the righteous Judge has taken
good care of me during my while life.
The time has come for my departure,
and I long to die and be with Christ.
My soul yearns to see
Christ, my King, in all His glory.
Glory be to the Father, and
to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.