Mary at the hour of our death
“... and at
the Hour of Our Death ...”
in Medio Umbræ
will come together, for we have prayed it a thousand
times, and neither can be turned away.
come. Perhaps for one loved it has already come. But so
has Mary! Mary, fulfilling her promise ... praying
for us ... in medio umbrae mortis,
in the midst of the hour of that shadow of death ...
our name upon her holy lips!
We instinctively know, even if we had never been told, had
never witnessed the scandal, the loss, and the corruption
of death — that we are called to pass through that valley
of deep shadow, through cypress-whispered lies on a wind
to the west that subdues even the sun in the vastness of
night. All speaks of an end. But it is a lie.
How many times in our lives has God called us — and the
way to Him was a pass, a pass deep in shadow through the
menacing valley of towering fear ... a valley haunted by
the shadows of our sins, the specters of our crimes — long
ago absolved by God but which we bear in a justice ill-conceived
and still-born because it understood nothing of love, and
not knowing love, knew nothing of forgiveness and the absolution
of absolute justice! What is more, darker things, things
ancient and of malice inhabit that valley with towering
walls of despair, a valley unfathomably deep in pain and
dark with suffering.
Death is not
the only dark corridor.
are engraved on the tomb of Duns Scotus, the great medieval
Franciscan theologian and philosopher. They mean, "Buried
once. Died twice."
we must die before we die. It seems paradoxical,
but for any life lived in Christ, it is well understood.
We must, and in so many, many ways, die to ourselves, to
our own wills, our own inclinations, our desires, our pride,
our arrogance ... all that would carry us off to the "Second
death" ... that final death in which none utterly
perish and from which none ever return. This is the death
from which all sane men flee. St. John beheld it from afar
in the Apocalypse. Christ spoke of it to Apostles.
What we must come to understand is that each of these "valleys"
cause us to die to ourselves in some way. They truly are
an experience of walking through a valley, over which the
shadow of death in one form or another has fallen. More
often than not, we are seized with fear, we cannot see the
way ahead, we deem ourselves alone, abandoned and forgotten.
The way grows narrow, and one by one all our pretensions
fall aside, our defenses crumble, and in the gathering darkness
we are left with two options only: faith or despair ...
we tremble in either and are blind in both.
We have reached the end of all things. If we have
chosen faith, faith in God, ... the darkness becomes sacred.
Despair, that doorway to death, is broken by a blinding
shaft of holy light. The Holy Spirit Himself calls us to
place our trust and confidence in the Christ Who conquered
death, even... even as, in our humanity, we see
no solution or answer to our problem or pain.
This is the a "Dark Night of the Soul", the path of pure
faith ... a time, a place, in which we cannot find
words, in which we are become speechless, enfolded in silence
sanctified through suffering. We collapse to our knees before
the mercy, goodness, and absolute certainty of God. Who
has chosen us, we have chosen in turn.
valley, in every darkness ... in every death, we hear the
whispered prayer for which we have longed all our lives
each time we have cried out, "Pray for us, now and at the
hour of our death!" The culmination of that prayer of Saint
and sinner, of sinner become Saint, will it go unanswered
in medio umbrae mortis?
In your perplexity, vulnerability and uncertainty call upon
Mary; she will unfailingly lead you onwards to living waters.
There she will cause you to lie down and bring you comfort
and solace. A parched nomad prostrate in a desert night,
fall into her gentle arms – and she will pour on your lips
and into your heart the very Living Water of Life. Mary
is the true shepherdess of your soul and it is her task
to bring you safely unto the Shepherd.
ad Mariam! Go to Mary!
Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal
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