It has long been a habit of mine when reading about some individual that lived in the past to examine the length of his life and to consider whether he received a good amount of years or instead was cut short. If, for example, the span of his years was given as from 1844 to 1891, then a quick mental calculation would give me the depressingly brief time of 47 years on this earth.
I am not sure of where the calculation deftly falls onto the other side of the line, where a man was generously endowed with plenty of time to live his life. Perhaps it depended on the age in which he lived. After all, we believe that in the black and ignorant past that most men lived brief lives of pain and torment.
Since returning to the Catholic faith my thoughts on death have shifted. I no longer consider the amount of years but rather what someone did with that allotted time, particularly in regards to their spiritual welfare. Our modern world is entirely material in nature which results in our only consideration for a good life residing in how long do we get. Even then, when people approach the twilight of their years it is often a desperate scramble to stave off the approaching blackness. The majority of the medical profession is based upon this, to extend life at all costs regardless of the quality of life that ensues.
I have come close to death a couple of times in my life, moments when it could have gone either way. In the event my thoughts were not on death but rather how to extricate myself. Afterwards I gave consideration to how close I had come to the razor’s edge. But in general my thoughts on death were peripheral and facile. It was primarily based upon how many years I could get for myself; the more the better.
I see things in a different manner now. I treasure my time on this earth not so much for the fleeting pleasures that I might enjoy, but rather for the opportunity I have to better myself. I read a wonderful passage the other day where there is a quote by Sir John Henry Newman, (now that’s a don’t mess with me name):
Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
Simple but very difficult. Just consider the words, “say the Rosary well”. The first three words are hard enough for most people to achieve every single day, but when you add the adverb it raises it to a whole other level. How often during my daily Rosary must I grab hold of myself and make a concerted effort to recite the prayers with awareness as opposed to merely saying the words in a rote manner. And then after having achieved that task I must then strive to ensure that my prayers are in glory to God as opposed to making me feel good about myself.
If I can live the rest of my life as dedicated to that passage of Newman as I possibly can then I will be content. And I find myself emerging from the shallow materialistic attitude of striving for more years, instead desiring for the time that I need to bring myself to God’s glory and achieve what He has set out for me in my time here. He has set the hour and the day and with that knowledge in mind I go with peace. The only thing to hope for then is the gift of a good death. Do it well, do it with a sense of English humor about it all. Turn me over as the other side isn’t done yet and all that. Jolly good show, old bean.