The Art of Dying Well

A friend just shared this feature-length article in the New York Times, “A Reminder We Are Not Alone” about priests who have been celebrating the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick for patients with Covid-19.

“The country,” the authors write, “is facing a deeply personal crisis of spirit, not only of health or economics. A virus has forced a reckoning with the most intimate questions we have, questions not only about how we live, but also about how we die. About what we can control, and what we cannot. About how to name human dignity, despair and hope. And especially about how to make meaning of our final hours on this earth.”

The article also reminded me of a little book I read a few years ago by St. Robert Bellarmine titled, The Art of Dying Well. In his Preface to it, he says: “Being now free from public business and enabled to attend to myself, when in my usual retreat I consider what is the reason why so very few endeavour to learn the ‘Art of dying well,’ (which all men ought to know,) I can find no other cause than that mentioned by the Wise man: ‘The perverse are hard to be corrected, and the number of fools is infinite.’ (Ecclesiastes i.15) For what folly can be imagined greater than to neglect that Art, on which depend our highest and eternal interests; whilst on the other hand we learn with great labour and practise with no less ardour, other almost innumerable arts, in order either to preserve or to increase perishable things?”

The priest in the NYT article echoes Bellarmine’s sentiment about this moment on which depends our highest eternal interests – “‘The most significant moment, the defining moment of our life is how we die,'” he said. […] “Now is an opportunity for all people to examine their own lives and to face hard questions, he explained: ‘What is important in life? What is the ultimate meaning of life? What is your ultimate hope?'”

Hopefully this pandemic has been or will be fruitful to learning something about the art of dying well. 

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