Moment of Death (2016)
Fr. Martin Fuchs´s sermon on 11th September 2016, Prague, Czech republic
We know that God revealed to certain persons the moment of their death: We know it from the martyrologies – Saint Polycarp or Saint Rose of Lima – we know it from private revelations to Saints, Saint Bridget of Sweden for example, but also from the Holy Scriptures.
The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ the Lord. (Lk 2:26) He thus had at least a presentiment and kept himself ready.
And Saint Peter writes: “For which cause I will begin to put you always in remembrance of these things: though indeed you know them, and are confirmed in the present truth. But I think it meet as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance. Being assured that the laying away of this my tabernacle is at hand, according as our Lord Jesus Christ also hath signified to me. And I will endeavour, that you frequently have after my decease, whereby you may keep a memory of these things.” (2 Peter 1:12-15)
Yes, it is a great mercy to know the moment of the death, but it is a greater mercy to die and be prepared to die.
These events took place many centuries ago. And yet we find people even nowadays to whom God revealed the moment of their early death. Let me just give you two examples.
The first one concerns a student of the monastery in Kremsmünster in Austria:
Professor Dr. P. Adalbero Huemer, a classical philologist in the secondary school and capitulary of the convent, once had to go to Vienna on behalf of the monastery. He chose a suitable early train and arrived at Vienna around 11 o'clock. By chance he met a former student of Kremsmünster at the Western train station who told him:
“Do you know, Professor, that Paul E. died after a short disease? He will be buried at the Central Cemetery today at 15:30. Unfortunately, I will not be able to go the obsequies since I have to go on a trip. Here is the death notice.” Professor Huemer was deeply moved. He did not know that the young man had died, because he had not received a death notice.
The student Paul E. had been one of his favourite pupils at the convent. Professor Huemer looked at the death notice in order to know in which part of the cemetery the funeral would take place and decided to pay the last honours to the student who had died young. He got himself a surplice and a biretta.
As soon as he had finished his errands, he went to the Central cemetery by tram. Since he was late, he immediately joined a priest who was just leaving the sacristy for the funeral. And then something strange happened. When Professor Huemer and the celebrating priest entered the mortuary, the mother of the deceased cried and fainted for a short time.
After the funeral Professor introduced himself to the bereaved family and was told the following curious incident which explained the shock of the mourning mother when she saw him.
One morning during his mortal disease the state of her son seemed to have improved in a remarkable manner. When she expressed her joy, her son looked at her with a grieved smile and said: “Don't let yourself be mislead by the appearance, Mom! I know that I will die soon! Last night I saw my own funeral!”
The poor woman did not show how deeply these words touched her. She tried to be cheerful and optimistic and said: “Even I often had a dream of the cemetery and I did not die!” “Mom”, answered her son, “I am sure that I did not dream. I saw everything in a clear way. Even Professor Huemer was at the funeral!"
Mrs. E. tried to dissuade her son from these sombre thoughts: “From the fact that you saw Professor Huemer you may realize that it was just a dream. He teaches in Kremsmünster; how could he come to Vienna to attend your funeral?” But she couldn't get the words of her son out of her mind. When the young man had died, she purposely forgot to send a death notice to Kremsmünster.
In her subconscious she had secretly feared that the vision of the deceased might become true. This explained her shock when Professor Huemer unexpectedly appeared at the funeral.
The second example happened in a Franciscan monastery near Cologne where a father named Odorich lived. Around midnight he suddenly woke up. Convinced that it was highest time for the morning choir, he got up, dressed rapidly and, drugged with sleep, hurried to the church. When he hastened through the sacristy in order to get to the monk's choir, he already heard the friars psalmodize. But to his greatest surprise the door of the church was locked.
He went for the key, opened the door and found the church brightly lightened. The friars stood in the stalls, but they were not singing the laudes, as he had expected, but the prayers for the dead. It was only then that he noted an open coffin in the presbytery. Fr. Odorich did not understand at all. None of his brothers had been ill! But one of them must have died suddenly during the night! He approached the coffin in order to know who the deceased was – and saw himself lying in the coffin. And now he distinctly heard the voice mentioning his name in the oration of the death office:
“Praesta, quaesumus, Domine, ut anima famuli tui Odorici sacerdotis, quam sacris muneribus decorasti, in coelesti sede gloriosa semper exsultet.” (“Almighty God, we pray thee, grant that the soul of the priest, thy servant Odoricus, may be admitted at thy bidding into the company of the just and may enjoy fellowship with them in everlasting bliss.”)
And then the figures became shadowy transparent, the light retired in itself and the father was alone in the dark nave. At that moment the church clock struck one o'clock. Fr. Odorich groped his way back to the door of the sacristy. As a sign that he had not dreamed, he left the key in the door. In the morning the told the guardian about his vision. Convinced that he had reached the term of his earthly life, he spent the following day in preparations for his death. At the end of the same day he began to complain about heart troubles. He had difficulties with breathing and before the doctor could be called, he died wheezingly in his cell.
Although we do not know the hour of our death, let us be vigilant, let us be ready! Nothing was more important to our Saviour in his last hours than to give us this this admonition. Amen.