“Happy death” sounds like an oxymoron. Like cold fire, which turns out to be Shakespearean.
“…Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!…”
(“Romeo and Juliet,” Act I, Scene I, Romeo; Shakespeare (1597))
A happy death is also something Catholics pray for. It’s very much a part of “Catholic culture.”
I expected to find detailed discussions of it in the Church’s assorted declarations, apostolic exhortations and encyclical letters.
Maybe because it’s one of those things that’s obvious to folks who grew up in Catholic families. Or maybe not. Either way, growing up as a Protestant didn’t teach me what the term means. Not from a Catholic perspective.
So I kept looking.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1014, mentions an ancient litany of Saints that includes “From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord;” and says that St. Joseph is the patron of happy death.
That’s helpful, but not particularly informative.
There’s no shortage of ‘happy death’ op-ed pieces in Catholic publications, which tells me that it’s part of contemporary Catholic culture.
“…Shield us ever under thy patronage, that, following thine example and strengthened by thy help, we may live a holy life, die a happy death, and attain to everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.”
(“Quamquam Pluries,” Pope Leo XIII (August 15, 1889))
That’s helpful, too. And tells me a little more about what, exactly, a “happy death” is.
About the encyclical’s title: I don’t know much Latin, but I think “Quamquam Pluries”would be “However Many Times” in my native language.
The late 19th century wasn’t any more serene than the early 21st, which is why Leo XIII said that the “…everlasting bliss in Heaven” prayer should be added to the rosary during October of 1889. Doing the same this year wouldn’t hurt, and that’s another topic.
But their deaths, filling out a Health Care Directive and COVID-19 have encouraged an awareness of death, judgment, Hell and Heaven: what Catholics call “last things.”
Which brings me back to “happy death.”
Oxymoronic musings aside, “happy death” sounds bonkers.
Death isn’t, by any reasonable standard, fun. Even without physical pain, death brings loss: separation from friends and family, an end to whatever we found pleasant in life.
And we’re praying for a “happy death?!”
No. Not from what I’ve read and heard.
Backing up a little, death happens. (Catechism, 1007)
And it’s not permanent.
Living forever is good news or bad news, depending on what happens in my particular judgment. That’s a sort of a postmortem performance review. What I’ve done matters. So does whether I accept God’s love and mercy. Or not. (Catechism, 1021–1029, 1033–1037, 1042–1050)
Saying “thanks but no thanks” to what Pope Leo XIII called “everlasting bliss” strikes me as a bad idea. But it is an option. And not what a happy death leads to.
I gather that experiencing a happy death would — and, I hope, will — mean being on good terms with our Lord when I die, and being ready to say “yes” to God’s mercy.
This Sunday’s gospel reading starts with Luke 24:13. That’s where Jesus meets Cleopas and someone else on their way to Emmaus.
There’s been considerable speculation about why the two disciples didn’t recognize Jesus.
I strongly suspect it’s at least partly because they knew that our Lord had died.
And assumed, not unreasonably, that someone who’s dead stays that way.
The two chaps on their way to Emmaus and the other surviving disciples were on a steep learning curve — on their way to realizing that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t stay dead.
And that “some women” were right.
“Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning
“and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.
Then our Lord gave us standing orders, and left: with a promise that he’d be back.
That was two millennia back now.
If Jesus had been anyone else, we’d have stopped expecting his return long ago.
But Jesus isn’t anyone else, so we’re passing along the best news humanity’s ever had.
I’ve taken God up on the offer.
Even though there’s a catch. Sort of.
They’re quite simple.
That’s simple, and incredibly difficult. But I think it makes sense.
I’ve talked about life, death and choices before: