Pray for a slow death

It is all very well for these saints to be martyred, “at the top of their game,” as it were. One suspects it may even be a worldly privilege in some cases, like the silk rope I mentioned two Idleposts ago. However, recent events have reminded us that most die slowly, whether or not they happen to be saints, and with or without good palliative care. To the contemporary secular mind, this is appalling. The “quality of life” having been defined without reference to any spiritual values (love is incidentally a spiritual value) — but instead by analogy to the life of a dog — it is easy to understand the desire for euthanasia.

Today’s Saint in my Saint Andrew’s Missal is the young Passionist, Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838–1862). Should he not already know, I daresay gentle reader could find all about him, given the search terms just provided. (Some Catholics have even been infiltrating the Wicked Paedia, leaving all kinds of learning there: I am shocked, shocked, to find how much good stuff is now posted there, with information gradually transferred from standard printed sources. Good on them!)

What might occasion most surprise — after we have answered to our own satisfaction the question, “How did this young lady’s man and dandy become a saint at all?” — is Saint Gabriel’s peculiar prayer. It was for a slow death; and incidentally it was granted, through tuberculosis at the age of not quite twenty-four.

From a large family, Francis Possenti (as he was baptized) had in his short life already watched several of his brothers and sisters, and his mother, die of horrible diseases. One of his brothers had also committed suicide. Francis had himself suffered from the quinsy as a teenager: a throat abscess that starts with strep, from the days before tonsillectomies. It should have killed him, but miraculously did not. From such facts we may reasonably deduce that the young man could not possibly have entertained the romantic notions about “easeful death,” still quoted from the “Ode to a Nightingale.”

In the face of hard reality, yet, that was his prayer: for a death so slow it would give him a chance to prepare himself for the hereafter.

To those of you who are not yet saints (and I have a spiritual director who will confirm that I’m with you), a slow death is of inestimable advantage. There is a great deal of sinful attachment to this world that needs burning off, and best to get about it this side of Purgatory. Pain, properly managed (which is to say, peacefully accepted if it is one’s unavoidable lot), can be helpful, too. But even if the pain can be palliated — which it can be, usually, when known treatments are properly applied — time is of the essence. The more of it one has, the better, once one has fixed upon the ambition for a good death.

Time can also be wasted. This is the most heartbreaking thing I see in the nursing homes and elsewhere, where patients receive no spiritual counsel, and their visitors, if they still have any, flash the smileyface when they come, usually as cover for a quick getaway. These patients are told lies, including silly lies about how they are getting better. People who tell you lies are not your friends.

People who want to kill you are also not your friends, though I think this point has been sufficiently made in other Idleposts, recently.

Of course, if there is no God — no Heaven, “no Hell below us, above us only sky” — then I grant, you are a dog, indeed: a happy panting dog at best, but a dog nevertheless, and of course you should be put down if you are feeling seriously uncomfortable. But this is the fool’s hypothetical, which can be quickly dismissed. For if, as you aver, human life can be reduced to accident, it is entirely meaningless. So why don’t we put you down now?

There is no arguing with the Culture of Death, beyond showing it is a form of psychopathology. There can be no debate, and really it’s just a question of who has the power to get his way. Wolves eat sheep when there are no shepherds, and as Thomas More observed, sheep eat men when the atheists are in power.

Saint Gabriel Possenti, pray for us. … Lord, give us time to prepare ourselves for Thee.