Several years ago, I came across a drawing in an old Catholic book, probably a Catechism of some sort. One of the pictures in the book depicted a person in the hospital surrounded by a priest and family members. The person in the bed had a peaceful, joyful look on his face. The caption for the picture said something about the importance of praying for a happy death. This might strike us as a little odd today, because we generally do not like to think much about death, and when we do, it does not often evoke a happy response.
But as Christians, we should not fear death, for we believe that we who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death, which grants us a share in His victory over death in the Resurrection. The funeral liturgy of the Church states it well with these words: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended.” (Roman Missal, Preface I for the Dead). We should therefore not fear death, but see it as the doorway through which we pass on our way to our heavenly reward where there will be no more suffering, but only joy and peace in the Lord. In our last moments, there is a particularly intense battle that goes on where the devil tries one last time to frighten us, to discourage us, and to tempt us to doubt the mercy of God. The Church offers us many gifts as we face this final struggle, especially the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which confers a particular gift of the Holy Spirit “who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death.” (CCC 1520)
Another gift we have at our disposal is the intercession of St. Joseph, who has among his various titles that of being Patron of a Happy Death. Tradition tells us that St. Joseph died in the peaceful presence of Jesus and Mary, who would have been a source of great comfort to him in his final moments. Having experienced this great grace, from his place in Heaven, he desires that we too should have that same opportunity, to be comforted in our final moments by the presence of Jesus and our Blessed Mother, and indeed all of the saints. The Catechism summarizes this point succinctly and beautifully:
The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the litany of saints, for instance, the Church has us pray: ‘From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord’; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us ‘at the hour of our death’ in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.” (CCC 1014)
Another title for St. Joseph is that he is the Terror of Demons. While that title could justify an entire reflection, we can simply recognize how St. Joseph comes to our aid in a special way at the moment of death, fighting against the demons who try to discourage us. We can be at peace knowing this holy man is fighting on our behalf, so that we can keep our minds and hearts fixed on the promise of Jesus who is preparing to bring us into glory in the Kingdom.
If you have not already done so, please consider making it a regular practice to ask St. Joseph to obtain for you a Happy Death. Not only can we count on his protection in those final moments, but he will also help us on this journey no longer to fear death, but to look forward with joy to what awaits us in Heaven.