Fear Not Death

“Where our treasure is, there is our heart also. If we lived for God, then death is a liberation. Earth and its possessions are the cage which confines us, and death is the opening of its door, enabling our soul to wing its way to its Beloved for which alone it has lived, and for which it only waited to die.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen (Seven Capital Sins)

The last sentence of the Archbishop's quote especially struck me: "[the soul's] Beloved for which alone it has lived, and for which it only waited to die."

In the face of a possible looming threat, and living in a city that would almost certainly be targeted if blowhards are ever taken seriously, it would be irresponsible of me not to check in with Death and see how we are doing.

The thing is - and I've written this before - I simply do not, and cannot fear death. Oh, I'm not clamoring for it, and I'm not particularly looking forward to the aches of aging (which would be an honor, really), or the sudden "fire and fury" if it comes to that (which might at least be quick), or the drawn out pains of martyrdom should I be required (that possibility I dread more than others), but of the thing itself:

"Th'undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns"

No. No, I am not in the least afraid.

Now, should I be annihilated tomorrow, I would have WORDS with God, because I didn't get to finish the damn novel...! But fear? Of death? What in the world is there to fear?

If there is, as some believe (and it is belief - it is all belief) nothing after this, then I lose nothing. I owe no man money any more. My back no longer aches. I lived as best I could, failed more often than I succeeded, and am unconscious of the rest.

BUT(!) if there is, as others believe (and at least in my own experience glimpsed the times He's flit the veil) the fullness of Life after this shadow of Death *instead:* if there is the communion of saints - of those we've known and loved before; of those who have been rooting for us, unknown throughout our lives; of those whom we have never known - the long-dead shepherd from a disregarded town in France who has been loving you for centuries as well as all the heroes who have gone with jolly, boisterous song before the King of Kings - then what am I to fear?

If there is, in the final - or rather *first* moment when you pass from this echo of life to Life itself, a moment of inexpressible Truth: when you gaze into the corners of your soul, those places you hid buried, tamped down, loaded with old clothes in the bottom of your closet - when the worst that you have ever done, that one shameful thing you've stuffed without confession in the corner of your throat, is brought into the light...

You fear this now, don't you? It's what makes you hope there is no Life after this Shadowland, no eyes to see you as you truly are.

For what you truly fear, when you fear Death, is that in looking at yourself laid bare, you'll see what *you* have always seen: the monster, the corpse, the lurching demon sucking on your liver.

It is not so. My friend, it is not so.

For you are looking on yourself with someone lying in your ear. You are imagining the thing you've locked away as greater than it is - more specific to yourself, as though you were the only villain in this great stage of the world.

But it is not so.

For in that first and tender moment, when you gaze on your Creator, He will open up His wounded hand and beg you open yours. Clutch on to your imaginings of yourself: your idea that the Man before you hates you, and you may flee - and He will let you flee, although you break His Heart - back down to the abyss. Where all the torments that you suffer will be of your *own* creation.

But, for just a moment, imagine that He loves you.

For just a moment, imagine that you take all your fears and doubts that scream to run away, protect yourself with chains of your own devising - abandon that and, for the first time in all your sorry life, wake up. Look up. And open up - to Him. More naked than you've ever been. Simple, fearful, being as you are. No more than that.

Then, what do you see?

My friend, my dearest friend, you see as He has seen you.

And you see the worst thing you have ever done, as He pulls apart the strings that bound you to your hatred of yourself, and He shows you how you were wounded, or a child, or didn't understand; He gives you eyes of pity to look upon yourself, and how you acted out of ignorance or fear or desperation to cling on. And as He keeps unbinding you, those people whom you've loved, although you never knew them, come up to you and pat you on the back and laugh and pull apart the knotted tangle of your life with a hearty: "Oh, hey! I bore this, too!" So that, before you know it, you're laughing at yourself, and they with you, and He with you, and all of you together - and your life becomes a kind of jolly game. As you learn that you were not alone in villainy - the worst that you have ever done is common and not worth worrying about - and that, more, He does not condemn you.

There may be penance: a short eternity as you all pull apart the strings, like a tangled golden chain folded on itself. The opportunity for Him to wash the soiled parts, or teach you how to mend the links that you, through anger, fear or cruelty, have broken. And that will require humility, perhaps. But you are not alone, and there is joy in the work of mending - good, honest work that builds your sinews and makes you far more hale and whole and solid, so that it ceases to be work at all, and you can help another mend. It is that person whom you wronged, who holds out their hand to you and you now take it, and kiss their hand with tears, and they with yours. And He sends you for a walk, for a century or two, to remember how to love them and to mend those links together. There will be time for pardoning; you will hear the Words of pardon.

And then(!), my friend, you have forgotten that you've surrendered to the Truth. And there are beams of light that are shining out from in you. All the good that you have done, all the good that you're now doing; all the people whom you've touched (who are circling now about you, and hugging you, and holding you, and glad that you've come home), all the strangers who you smiled at and didn't know that day you saved their lives, all the beauty that you made, all the children's children's children who live because of you, all the moments that you stopped and laughed to see a sunset - all the little things that lie like jewels that you mistook for stones. These will be visible, too. You never saw them, silly, in your life. Well, how could you? They were the light that you saw BY. And you weren't ready until now to look full at the sun that is and has always burst forth from your heart.

This, THIS we mistakenly call "Death." This communion, this Love that you are aching for, this missing piece that you are chasing after and never quite can satisfy - this is what you fear? This is what you think quite sensible to disbelieve? Like the grumpy, aging man who says: "Well, I never wanted anyone to love me anyway. I don't believe in love. It's all a sham." When you know that he'd give anything to be standing beneath a streetlight, with his love held in his arms.

Oh, my friends. Why are you running around now, fearfully, at these two pathetic blowhards? This ancient world has known tyrants before, and all THOSE tyrants now are dust. (And who knows if they let themselves be seen in that First and Final Moment, or if they caved around their shame and ran off into darkness?)

Do you fear the moment itself? Do you mourn the world, or those who live to mourn yourself? That's sensible as it goes, but it has not happened yet. And you will be sad indeed if you wail and mourn about what may be when you could be celebrating what you have.

It is not easy. Joy is never easy. And it may be that you need to let the fear run through you for a time. But do not let it own you. You do not belong to fear. You were not made for fear. It is a lie.

So, I challenge you: if you are afraid today, pray for those who frighten you. If you cannot pray, then hope. If you cannot hope, then go radiate your soul with something truly beautiful, and just be - even for a moment - aware that there is nothing, NOTHING, that can diminish the true beauty you behold. (Although the enemy will try. Ignore him. He is a petty thief and jealous.) And if there is no beauty, make some. Compliment the stranger. Give food to those who need it. Dance, and dance badly but with complete abandon in the stairway of your office. Surrender to the beauty of the Spring, and make bouquets of daffodils. Tell someone you love them. Love someone who you hate. Love them *more.* Be the light when there is no light. See others' light when they cannot see their own. Show them. And do not fear the Light when He calls you home to Him.

It is only all you ever wanted, deep within your aching soul.

Coraggio, take heart. You are beloved. Let no one steal that from you.