February 9, 2022
Reflecting on St. Joseph as the patron saint of a good death during his catechesis at the General Audience, Pope Francis invites Christians to face death with faith in the resurrection, saying that the Christian faith is not a way of exorcising the fear of death, but rather helps us to face it.
During his catechesis at the General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis reflected on the special devotion the faithful have always had for Saint Joseph as the patron saint of a good death – a devotion born of the thought that he died with the assistance of Our Lady and Jesus.
Through St. Joseph to Mary to Jesus
Pope Francis notes that Pope Benedict XV, a century ago, wrote that “through Joseph we go directly to Mary, and through Mary to the origin of all holiness, Jesus.”
In this regard, Benedict XV encouraged pious practices in honour of the Saint, recommending that since he is considered as the most effective protector of the dying, it is the concern of the Pastors to encourage the pious associations that have been established to implore St. Joseph on behalf of the dying such as those of the ‘Good Death’, of the ‘Transit of Saint Joseph’ and ‘for the Dying”.
Our relationship with death is about the present
Our relationship with death is “never about the past, but always about the present,” Pope Francis said, noting that some people perhaps think that this language and theme are “a legacy of the past.”
More so, the so-called “feel-good” culture tries to remove the reality of death, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought it into focus in a dramatic way with many people dying without loved ones being able to be near them, making death “harder to accept and process.”
He highlights that though “we try in every way to banish the thought of our finite existence, deluding ourselves into believing that we can remove the power of death and dispel fear.” The Christian faith, he notes, is “not a way of exorcising the fear of death, rather, it helps us to face it.”
Facing death through faith in resurrection
It is only through faith in resurrection that we can face the abyss of death without being overwhelmed by fear, the Pope says, because “the true light that illuminates the mystery of death comes from the resurrection of Christ.” In a sense, thinking about death enlightened by the mystery of Christ, helps us to look at all life through fresh eyes.
He advises against empty accumulation of possessions if one day we will die. Rather, what we must accumulate is charity, the ability to share, not to remain indifferent to the needs of others.
The Holy Father then reminds us that the Gospel tells us that death comes like a thief, in spite of however much we try to keep its arrival under control or plan for it. It remains an event we must reckon with, and before which we must make choices.
“What is the point of arguing with a brother, with a sister…?” he asks. “Before death, many issues are brought down to size. It is good to die reconciled, without grudges and without regrets!”
Two considerations for Christians
For Christians, the Pope proposes two considerations: first, that we cannot avoid death, and for this reason, after having done everything humanly possible to cure the sick, “it is immoral to engage in futile treatment.”
The second consideration, concerning the quality of death, including pain and suffering, is that we must be grateful for all the help medicine gives through so-called palliative care, but we must be careful not to confuse this help with “unacceptable drifts towards euthanasia.”
Stressing that “we must accompany people towards death but not provoke death or facilitate assisted suicide,” the Holy Father calls for prioritizing the right to care and treatment for all, particularly the weak, the eldest and the sick. He further warns against isolating and accelerating the death of the elderly.
“Life is a right, not death, which must be welcomed not administered,” he says, adding that this ethical principle applies to everyone, not just Christians and believers.
Concluding, the Pope implores the intercession of St. Joseph to help us live the mystery of death in the best possible way, because, for a Christian, “the good death is an experience of the mercy of God, who comes close to us even in the last moment of our life.”
He ends his catechesis by inviting all present to pray a “Hail Mary” for the dying and those experiencing bereavement, because in that same prayer, we pray for Our Lady to be close to us “at the hour of our death.”
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ