Death, New Year, finding room for unlimited trust in God

The first day back at work in 2012, I had a lengthy sobering hallway conversation with a co-worker whose mother-in-law had passed away over the holiday weekend after some time in hospice. Like others in the family, this co-worker had spent time with the dying woman, whose passing was peaceful but preceded by a few days of pain and anxiety. He described how difficult it was to be unable to help beyond simply being present, and praying. 

He also remarked how death tends to focus the lives of those who witness it. 

What better way to start 2012 than with a little life-refocusing? 

Our culture seems less and less comfortable with death, and writing a column on it feels even to me a bit macabre and awkward. Maybe that’s all the more reason for us to provide a little counter-witness to the culture and make sure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that our days on this earth are very limited, and the choices we make between now and death are important. 

On New Year’s Eve, Pope Benedict XVI held a Vespers service in St. Peter’s Basilica and the traditional praying of the Te Deum, a fourth-century hymn of praise to God at the close of a year. 

“Another year is drawing to a close,” the pope said, “as we await the start of a new one: with some trepidation, with our perennial desires and expectations. 

“Reflecting on our life experience, we are continually astonished by how ultimately short and ephemeral life is. So we often find ourselves asking: what meaning can we give to our days? What meaning, in particular, can we give to the days of toil and grief? This is a question that permeates history, indeed it runs through the heart of every generation and every individual. But there is an answer: It is written on the face of a Child who was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, and is today the Living One, risen for ever from the dead. 

“From within the fabric of humanity, rent asunder by so much injustice, wickedness and violence, there bursts forth in an unforeseen way the joyful and liberating novelty of Christ our Savior, who leads us to contemplate the goodness and tenderness of God through the mystery of his Incarnation and Birth. ... 

“So there is no more room for anxiety in the face of time that passes, never to return; now there is room for unlimited trust in God, by whom we know we are loved, for whom we live and to whom our life is directed as we await his definitive return. Since the Savior came down from heaven, man has ceased to be the slave of time that passes to no avail, marked by toil, sadness and pain. Man is son of a God who has entered time so as to redeem it from meaninglessness and negativity, a God who has redeemed all humanity, giving it everlasting love as a new perspective of life.” 

May your 2012 be full of meaning and love.