One of the noblest things a priest is called upon to do is to assist the dying in the last hours of life. Through the Sacraments the priest places their hands into God’s. You can tell a lot about a person in the final hours of his life. The way the person dies oftentimes tells you about the life he has lived. Sometimes they will die only with a nurse present in a hospital; sometimes they die surrounded by loved ones. Sometimes they die peacefully; some fight until the end. I was just this morning with a woman surrounded by her family, her many rosaries, prayer cards and statues. I took her Confession, gave her the Last Rites, the Apostolic Pardon and gave her Viaticum. The last words I told her were “Remember, you have no sins. Today you will see your mother.” That brought a great smile to her face. And then off she went.
A few weeks ago I was called to the home of a lovely lady. As soon as I entered her home I knew I was in the presence of a saintly woman who had lived a holy life. Her family was already gathered around her in prayer. She had the biggest Miraculous Medal around her neck I had ever seen. She was happy and relieved to see a priest—not necessarily me, but a priest. We are told that if we pray to Saint Joseph he will insure that a priest will be with us at the hour of our death. The woman’s four daughters gathered around as we prayed together in her final hours. This holy woman had worked her whole life to better the lives of immigrants and the poor of Haiti. She volunteered with the Daughters of Mary to build a school for 500 young Haitian women. Her rosary beads never left her hands. They were worn out. She had all-night vigils of prayer in her home. She loved the Blessed Mother. She attended Mass every day and put her faith into action by taking strangers into her home. Her family tells me “she never compromised her Catholic Faith.” As you read these words, I assure you she is in heaven.
These are just two of the many faithful who are out there in the world doing what the Lord asks of them. Quietly, patiently, faithfully, they do what the Lord commands. I see it all the time. I want you to know they are there.
I recently saw a movie called Son of Saul. I would not suggest you see it. Not because it is in Yiddish, but because it is one of the most brutal movies I have ever seen. Saul, the protagonist, is a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz. They were a small number of prisoners whose job it was to dispose of the bodies of their fellow Jews that the Germans had killed at Birkenwald. As the Germans exterminate countless Jews, Saul comes across his son who has been put to death. The film becomes a desperate quest within the death camps for Saul to find a Rabbi to perform the “Kaddish,” the Jewish prayer over the dead. While the film is brutal in realism, it is a story of moral survival within an evil Nazi world gone mad. Moreover, it is a story of faith. It was essential for Saul to find a Rabbi to assist his dead son to God. I suppose I was so moved because I know how imperative it is for the priest to be present at the hour of death. It is the priest who assists the soul to God through the Sacraments.
Please don’t see the move. It is too disturbing. But it reaffirms just how fundamental, how irreplaceable is our faith in a God who will receive us “in hora mortis nostrae…at the hour of our death.”