“In half an hour, I’ll know more than you do”

On this Ash Wednesday, I am recalling those words spoken by Fr. Alfred Delp to a chaplain shortly before the Nazis executed the priest by hanging.

Throughout history, there are certain persons who display such a remarkably supernatural outlook toward death.

Here are a handful of examples excerpted from St. Alphonsus Maria De Liguori’s Preparation for Death:

Father Suarez died with so much peace, that in his last moments he exclaimed: “I could never imagine that death would be so sweet.” 

When Cardinal Baronius was advised by his physician not to fix his thoughts so much on death, he said: “Perhaps you think I am afraid of death. I fear it not; but, on the contrary, I love it.” 

In going to death for the faith, the Cardinal of Rochester, as Saunders relates, put on his best clothes, saying that he was going to a nuptial feast. Hence at the sight of the scaffold he threw away his staff, and said: “O my feet! walk fast; we are not far from Paradise.”

St. Francis of Assisi began to sing at the hour of death, and invited the brethren to join him.

Brother Elias said to him: “Father, at death we ought rather to weep than to sing.” “But,” replied the Saint, “I cannot abstain from singing; for I see that I shall soon go to enjoy my God.”

A young nun of the order of St. Teresa, in her last illness said to her sisters in religion who stood around her bed bathed in tears: ” O God! Why do you weep? I go to enjoy my Jesus. If you love me, rejoice with me.”

Father Granada relates that a certain sportsman found a solitary infected with leprosy, singing in his last agony. “How,” said the sportsman, “can you sing in such a state?” “Brother,” replied the hermit, “between me and God there is nothing but the wall of this body. I now see that my flesh is falling off—that the prison will soon be destroyed, and that I shall go to see my God. It is for this reason that I rejoice and sing.”

St. Catharine of Genoa could not bear to hear death called a misfortune. Hence she would say : “Oh ! beloved death, in what a mistaken light are you viewed ! Why do you not come to me ? I call on you night and day.”

St. Teresa desired death so vehemently that she regarded the continuation of life as death : hence she composed the celebrated hymn, I die because I do not die. Such is death to the Saints.

Two weeks before he was executed, Fr. Alfred Delp said he still had hope. But the hope was not, fundamentally, that he would live. Rather, he wrote to a friend, “Either God wants my life or wants to teach me a lesson. In neither case must we say ‘No.’ And whoever isn’t able to accept death hasn’t lived right. Death isn’t an assault, a foreign power, but rather the last part of this life. The two are connected.”

How will increasing our acceptance of death help us to live right?

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