Because Jesus chose a ghastly human death, said St. Alphonsus Liguori, Mary followed in His footsteps to choose physical death for herself. And thereby she showed us how to die. “Three things render death bitter,” he said, “attachment to the world, remorse for sins, and the uncertainty of salvation. The death of Mary was entirely free from these causes of bitterness, and it was accompanied by three special graces that rendered it precious and joyful: She died as she had lived, entirely detached from the things of the world; she died in the most perfect peace; and she died in the certainty of eternal glory.”
What would a holy death might look like for us, if we glean insights from how Our Lady lived, as well as how she died? Then death would no longer be something we dread or fear, but rather something we welcome with surrender and joy.
Detachment, Peace, Confidence
First, we follow Mary in seeking to be detached from the things of the world. As a layperson, detachment from worldly possessions is especially hard for me. Should we get rid of the TV? Tablet? Make them communal tools that we all share? Part of me longs for monastic life, somewhere in a faraway cave where we can live simply and without the digital, emotional, and material clutter that tends to take over our lives.
Of course, that’s unrealistic. Still, detachment is a real aspect of magnanimity that can be attained. For our family, it’s about living within our means and not beyond it. It’s about giving our first fruits to God, which means we don’t go out to eat or to the movies very often. It means helping those in need, such as our elderly neighbor with cancer or the widow across the street. It involves seasonally purging what we own to donate gently used items, then living with less.
But detachment, to be permanent, must be a change in the heart. That’s where the real challenge is. Our Lady’s example of perfect detachment from the world reminds us that this is how we graze death without fear or reticence: by keeping the eyes of our hearts fixed on Heaven alone.
Second, we follow Mary in seeking to live and die in peace. We don’t live in a society that is peaceful. Everyone seems to be restless. The Blessed Mother “kept all these things in her heart,” which means that her interior peace was never disturbed.For us, striving for peace includes forgiving those who have hurt us, sometimes severely. I have heard horrific stories recently of victims of abuse and neglect, serious betrayals in marriage, deep-seated wounds from unresolved grief related to sudden death. Forgiveness isn’t just about “letting go.” It’s about the longing for healing.
Peace is also a fruit of the way we live our lives. If we are attentive to the Holy Spirit’s movements in our lives and respond with a generous yes, we will discover the “peace that surpasses all understanding” resides within us, too.
Finally, we follow Mary in rejoicing in the nearness of Heaven as she approached death. Without confidence in God’s love and mercy, where would we be as we also think about our mortality? Presumption leads to reckless living, but hopelessness leads to despair. We have to recall our sins in light of God’s immense goodness and the reality that He does not want any soul He has created to be lost to eternity.
Foundational to Death
That’s why all of these — holiness, detachment, peace, and embracing God’s mercy — are foundational to a death we don’t fear. And as we pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, let us remember the gift we are asking of the Blessed Mother as we meditate on her Assumption: for a happy, holy death.
Jeannie Ewing writes about the hidden value of suffering and discovering joy in the midst of grief. Her latest book is For Those Who Grieve. A disability advocate, she shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters. She is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several Catholic magazines, including Catholic Exchange. She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, see her website. This article is a shorter version of “What Mary Can Teach Us About Death,” reprinted with permission from Catholic Exchange. For her other articles on Hour of Our Death, go here.
The painting is Veronese’s “Assumption of the Virgin,” and is used under a Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.