One of the most distinctive traits of Anglo-Saxon societies – seen with the eyes of a Southerner – is the obsession with strange events and experiences.
Not only marriages must be celebrated in the stupidest places – on the beach, on aeroplanes, on bungee-jumping bridges, and the like – but apparently nowadays even marriage proposals must be the apex of an “experience” travel, or of some extraordinary event.
Nothing is sacred anymore. But everything must be exciting.
I will be, for once in my life, blunt and tell you that I find this entire attitude very superficial, a rather childish escape from reality, and far from the very serious business of what was, once, supposed to be a commitment for life. Which is on par with the fact that all too often it just isn’t.
This superficiality and cheap escapism is best seen in modern funerals. They are, nowadays, often not even called such; are very heavily slanted on the “celebration” of the wonderful, unique, utterly breathtaking qualities of the departed and, in a word, witness the huge effort of modern man to remove the thought of death even when he smashes his face against it.
It seems to me that this very same mentality is slowly but surely extending to terminally ill people. You read more and more often of the most childish, superficial events staged for people who are dying; as if for a person who has only weeks left such events were, or had the right to be, of any meaningful importance.
If a person is, say, a fan of the “Iron Man” movies, a smartphone message from Christian Bale will not really give him any satisfaction if he is older than, say, eight and a half years; and probably not even then.
I will be very counter-cultural here, and say that the last weeks of one’s life are made by God for one purpose: prayer, and preparation to death.
If God gives me the great blessing – wait, let me repeat it in bold: great blessing – of some weeks or months of preparation before I kick the bucket I truly, truly want to hope that I will not waste them in the stupid pursuit of some earthly goal now without any sensible importance, but as investment in the future life, and with the utmost, most moved gratitude for being allowed to prepare carefully for the most important, – nay: the only important; nay, the only! – real task of my life: salvation.
It is not only that I hope I would do this because of the infinite prize at stake – the gaining of Purgatory -; but it is also that I am fully persuaded that to dedicate the last weeks, or months, to intense prayer would give me an interior serenity, a confident hope, and a robust and joyful expectation of my future life vastly surpassing every fulfilment of some more or less childish, and now certainly irrelevant, desire I might experience when it does not really make any sense anymore.
“I always wanted to get an autograph of Iron Man/Christian Bale before I die”, says the ill man, and does not understand that perhaps it’s time to leave all these things behind, and focus on more important things. But then some friend or relative will go on Facebook and mount one of those emotional frenzies until someone gets to Christian Bale’s number, or he is informed via social media. What can the man do, but to please the mob? There comes the autographed photo, duly scanned, and the very warm video message. Countless girlies start screaming in excitement. Everyone feels good. Everyone’s a winner. The chap will be dead in a matter of week, but: boy, isn’t this exciting; and aren’t we a bunch of wonderful people, frantically removing our fear of death….
“But Mundabor” – you might say – “one can have the autograph and pray the prayers!”
Yes, he can. But one must seriously wonder where his priorities lie, if even in dying he is so attached to what now are no more than child’s whims. Similarly, all those who get excited for such exercises must wonder what their real attitude towards death and judgment is, with my take being: superficiality, self-centred feel-goodism, or utter denial. Possibly, no faith in eternal life, too.
Make the last weeks of a dying person count. Stay with him for as long as you can, pray with him, talk to him about the Great Prize, cry with him tears of love and consolation, accompany him on these important steps to the all-important aim. If he does not believe, pray twice and – in charity and with prudence – encourage, instruct, warn him, find him a priest, and in case a calm, patient, resolute priest! If you ask me, this is the real “moral support”, not the latest child’s toy before he dies.
Reflect whether anyone of you can imagine one of those severe grandmothers of old who, on their death bed, expressed a desire to get an autographed photo of Humphrey Bogart, or a private screening of Casablanca!
They knew the time of earthly caprices was up, and it was now time to prepare to heaven.
Modern generations think rather of what expensive toy they might get, or what strange experience they might have, before they die.