How is the dying body given in love? Dying as sign


Melciorre Caffa, St. Rose of Lima dying

From the book:
How is the dying body given in love?Many of the themes of the Theology of the Body we have worked with are relevant here: attending to the present moment, disponibilité, self-abjection, hospitality, love and tenderness are all part of seeing rightly the given sign of dying, of receiving our true identity from God.  This section will employ a “spiritual seeing,” or better yet, a contemplative attitude throughout.  Perhaps more than any other time in a person’s life, the spiritual aspect is visible (or perhaps we attend death so much more closely we are able to perceive the spiritual).  The “ecstatic” reality of dying, of giving one’s life to God in love, is abundantly witnessed when we know how to perceive God’s presence.
It is important to note that a reading of the spiritual sign of dying—a Theology of the Body ars moriendi if you will–is not prescriptive.  Although I do think there are patterns and common themes within the dying process, every spiritual director knows that the Holy Spirit leads the person in a manner most befitting that person’s particular relationship with God.  If you are dying, you need not be troubled by a mocking scrupulosity that some “stage” has happened or not happened.[1]   For one accompanying the dying, it may be impossible to “plan out” where the person is at: attention to the Holy Spirit in your conversation (or quiet sitting together) is key.  But as Iain Matthew says on John of the Cross: “He gives us the schemas, not to help us predict, but to encourage us to surrender”[2], as evidence that God is indeed working, there are signs to read in the dying process, and the process itself is not meaningless.  The ars moriendi witnesses the movement of healing in God through dying, and while there are moves to encourage and provide space for, we always must remember that healing cannot be plotted.  Healing is its own mystery, coming from the heart of God.  And it always feels, in some real sense, like a surprise, an explosion of grace into time.  It is sensed as the mercy that it is.


[1]This is one of the prominent criticisms of Kȕbler-Ross’s stages, that people may be expected to follow a standardized emotional schema and rushed to move through that, contrary to God’s desire for that person. Any person helping anyone to die should remember that at some level, the person dying knows more about dying than you do.  Guenther, Still Listening, citation pg.
[2]Matthew, 88.
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