I had had kids at home sick yesterday so I did not get this up. But God is a God of grace and so even though it is Saturday, we can still do Fénelon Friday! Can’t we? Ok. Whatever….without further ado…
LETTER 22: The Fear of Death Is Not Taken Away by Our Own Courage But by the Grace of God
I am not surprised in the least to hear that you are thinking about death more and more these days. I guess that’s quite natural as we get older and weaker! At least, this is my experience. We reach a point in life in which we are forced to think about the inevitable end which is approaching, and the older and more inactive we become the more we find ourselves dwelling on this matter. We might wish that we could put these thoughts out of our minds, but I remind you that God makes use of these thoughts to keep us from being deceived about how brave we are in the face of death. It is good to think seriously about death so that we are kept aware of our human weaknesses, and kept humble in His hands.
Nothing humbles us more effectively than troubled thoughts about death. And in the midst of such meditations, we often find ourselves wondering whatever happened to all the faith and assurance we thought we had. But this experience is good for us. This is the crucible of humiliation, in which our faith is ground down and tested, in which we see again our own weaknesses and unworthiness, and come to understand afresh our need of God’s continuous mercy. In His sight shall no man living be justified (Psalm 143:2). Yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight, (Job 15:15), and in many things we offend all (James 3:2). We see our faults and not our virtues. And this is as it should be, for it is very dangerous to look at our virtues, lest we be deceived into thinking that we do not need God’s mercy.
When we come to these valley experiences when we are deprived of faith and assurance, there is only one thing to do. We must go straight on through the valley, walking with the Shepherd just as we did before we entered that valley. As we go through, let us deal with any sin which the Lord reveals to us, still walking in the light He gives. On the other hand, beware of becoming overly sensitive just because you are thinking of death. The Lord does not want you to be concerned about things which do not really matter. We must remain peaceful, not pitying ourselves because death is approaching. Instead, let’s keep a detached attitude about life, giving it in sacrifice to God, and keeping ourselves confidently abandoned to Him. When he was dying, St. Ambrose was asked whether he was not afraid to face God at the judgment. He replied with these unforgettable gettable words, “We have a good Master.” We need to remind ourselves of this.
There is much uncertainty about death, even for the Christian. We are not exactly certain how God is going to judge us, nor can we be absolutely sure about our own characters. But I am not saying this to shake your faith. Instead, I am trying to show you how completely dependent we are upon His mercy. We must, as St. Augustine has said, be so reduced as to have nothing to present before God but “our wretchedness and His mercy.” We are so wretched in our sinfulness that nothing else can ever save us except His mercy. But thank God, His mercy is all we need!
Also, in these times of depression, read whatever will strengthen your confidence and establish your heart. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (Psalm 73:1). Let us pray together for this cleanness of heart, which is so pleasing in His sight, and which causes Him to be so compassionate and understanding about our failings.
Francis Fénelon, Let Go (New Kensington, PA: Whittaker House, 1973).