During fourteen months I saw my brother fight fearlessly against his cancer. He looked for a cure with different doctors and submitted himself to the most painful treatments in the process. Even though he did not hide his pain and discomfort, I did not see him complain about his fate nor the procedures he submitted himself to. He clung to life tight. He did not want to go. However, the treatments did not produce the desired results and he continued to deteriorate. Even then, he still hoped for a cure. I believe that he felt it a duty to his family to continue providing for them.
During the final days in our life we face a double challenge. Many times death comes in an unexpected way. It is not planned. It destroys our plans and our aspirations. For so many years we have become so used to life in this earth… It is difficult to let go. The time comes for each one of us to embrace the ultimate detachment. And yet, this is what spiritual growth is about. Spiritual detachment means embracing the relativity of all things in this world with regards to the ultimate good, God. Hence, St. Ignatius writes:
God created human beings to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save their souls.
God created all other things on the face of the earth to help fulfill this purpose.
From this it follows that we are to use the things of this world only to the extent that they help us to this end, and we ought to rid ourselves of the things of this world to the extent that they get in the way of this end.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things as much as we are able, so that we do not necessarily want health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long rather than a short life, and so in all the rest, so that we ultimately desire and choose only what is most conducive for us to the end for which God created us.
It is important to realize that we are not made for this world but that this world is to help us attain eternity. However, even this world is limited and can only help us get so close to God. When we are at the door to pass to the other world, this world has fulfilled its purpose. It is no longer necessary. We are to let go and embrace what is to come. This is not easy!!
Then, there is pain. I saw my brother endure excruciating pain. Pain killers were not enough. As I witnessed his calvary, I came to understand better the dilemma of those who would rather terminate their lives rather than go through that torture.
It is during these moments that it is so important to understand that we are not alone but that God is with us. We need his love, we need his comfort, we need his presence. My brother received the Sacrament of Anointment of the Sick several times. This sacrament signifies the strength that God’s presence provides to the individual undergoing this process of ultimate detachment. If our interior dispositions are the proper ones, our sins are forgiven and we receive inner strength to embrace the future with God as we detach from this world. We receive inner strength from God to unite our sufferings to his and see them under a different prism. Faith helps us see suffering from the point of view of love.
The process of dying can be a very fruitful one in our journey. At times, it may be the most important part of our journey. This could be a time to wrap up our lives and touch our loved ones in a very significant way. The more we live it in a conscious way, the more we can take advantage of the graces and the lessons that it can provide.
Questions for pondering:
1. Am I afraid of dying? Am I afraid of the pain that the dying process could include?
2. Can I see opportunities and lessons I could learn during the process of dying? How could I take better advantage of that process?
3. As we say goodbye to our loved ones, what is the legacy we would like to leave behind?
Fr Lino Otero, LC: Originally from Nicaragua, my family moved to Miami, Florida when I was a teenager. Soon afterwards I experienced the call to serve God without reservations. Since then, I have had experience in hospital ministry, working as a middle school teacher, leading a parish school, organizing soccer tournaments for kids, starting a radio station, training priests in leadership formation, organizing a parish community from maintenance to mission, and much more. I love spiritual direction and preaching. Years of philosophy, psychology and theological training have enriched my personal life and have shaped my message of hope. For more go to linootero.me