Remember Me Thus
Here is an unusual text that someone sent me last week, by Robert Test, of the Cincinnati Post. It's unusual for speaking of familiar things in an unfamiliar way:
The day will come when my body will lie upon a white sheet neatly tucked under four corners of the mattress located in a hospital busily occupied with the living and the dying. And at a certain moment the doctor will determine that my brain has ceased to function, and that for all intents and purposes my life has stopped.Well, the words are not to be taken too literally; the author is saying a great deal more than that. If by donating organs of our body we can help another, we are open to that. But what he speaks of is rather how our whole body is related to the whole human body. That we are related in a very dynamic way to everyone. In materiality. Also to Jesus. In materiality. Our relationship to Him and to others in the spirit, in grace, is something else again, and even more dramatic.
When that happens do not attempt to instill artificial life into my body by use of a machine, and don't call this my "death bed". Let it be called "the bed of life." And let my body be taken from it to help others lead fuller lives. Give my sight to a man who has never seen a sunrise, or a baby's face, or love in the eyes of a woman. Give my heart to a person whose own heart has pain. Give my blood to a teenager pulled from the wreckage of his car, that he might live to see his grandchildren. Give my kidneys to one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week. And take my bones, and every muscle and every fiber and every nerve in my body, and find a way to make a crippled child walk. And explore every corner of my brain and take my cells if necessary, and let them grow so that some day a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat, and a deaf girl will hear the sound of rain. Burn what is left and scatter the ashes to the winds to help the flowers grow. And if you must bury something, let it be my faults, my weaknesses, my prejudices.
Give my sins to the devil, give my soul to God. And if, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed, or a word to someone who needs you. And if you do all I ask, I will live forever.
So it is true that when we bury one we love, we bury the song of birds, we bury the surf of the sea, the rain, the moon, the stars at night. We bury living things that give glory to God: the lovely deer, the elegant fox, the gorgeous peacock. For they are part of us, and we are part of them, and all part of Christ.
And spirit impregnates all this matter. The immortal human soul is united forever to mortal materiality. Death is but a temporary separation, an immersion in a fertile darkness before the Dawn of the Great Day that we all prepare for, that we all await, that we all contribute to.
And death, then, can be embraced with hope. It's not the end. It's the beginning. It's a solstice: the end of one season and the beginning of the Real One. It's a prelude, it's an overture before the curtain rises.
And in all this we are one with brothers who have had it taught long ago. For it was noted on and commented on. — John Donne:
It is our sinfulness that hides our relation to others in the body, and even more, in the soul.No man is an island, entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the whole,
A piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less...
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. (DevotionsXVII)
Sophy Burnham writes on Angels. She tells this story:
In April I was interviewed at [station] WOR, New York, by Gil Gross. He told me this story about a young couple who had a little girl and a new baby. And the little girl wanted to be left alone with the baby, but the parents were afraid. They heard of jealous children hitting siblings. They didn't want the baby hurt. So they said, "No, no, no, not yet. And why do you want to be with him? What are you going to do?" "Nothing. I just want to be alone with him." And she begged for days and was so insistent, that the parents finally agreed.— A five-year old child! "Tell me about God. I'm forgetting." We've been forgetting since we came. It's our sinfulness that leads us to forget God, to forget spirit in matter. And death is the consequence, because in death matter and spirit are going to be separated. And through the Death and Rising of Christ that death is made redemptive. And afterwards we will be made whole again, intact and complete.
Well there was an intercom in the room, and so they decided they could listen. And if the baby cried, they could go in to see if everything was alright. So the little girl went in, approached the crib, all alone. And she came up to the new-born baby, and over the intercom they could hear her whisper, "Tell me about God. I'm forgetting."2
A nun said, "At the birth of a child, the whole world changes." And we can say: "At anyone's death we move again more inexorably on to the Last Day, the Great Day."
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.... And I saw the holy City, new Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great Voice from the throne saying: "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will always be with them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And there shall be no more death, no mourning nor wailing nor pain, for the old has passed away. (Rev 21:1-4)That being so, in faith we can be at peace. And when we pray, "May they rest in peace" — maybe it's a prayer also for ourselves, as well as for those we love: that we would know peace.
Let us know peace in Christ, and recognize what we have in Him as we move, day by day, into what life was meant to be. Can be. And is. In Christ Jesus our Lord.
And if by chance you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed, or a word to someone who needs you. If you do as I ask, I will live forever.Amen.
1 This homily was given by Fr. Matthew at the Funeral Mass and Burial of the mother of a monk of Gethsemani. She now lies at rest with his father in the secular cemetery at the abbey.
2 Sophy BURNHAM: Angel Letters, Ballantine Books (New York, 1991), pp.139-140.
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