Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Note on the Desire of Death

These are some thoughts that have been much on my mind lately, given some more formality here:

There are two aspects under which death maybe considered, in certain psychological states of a person. One may consider death simply as the ending of all the sufferings and trials of life, a solution to the despair and hopelessness which one perceives in such apparently irremediable trials. The psychological situation of a person who has this perspective of death is of such a nature that, because it is founded on despair, tends to lead to the horrible sin of suicide, which is the deliberate bringing about of one's own death. This kind of desire for death is by itself wrong and immoral, obviously.

There is also the desire for death which is founded not on despair, but, in fact, on hope: the hope and longing for happiness in God. The person who desires death in this sense does not intend to bring it about himself, but hopes for and expects the time when God Himself will free the soul from its cage of the body, as it were. This person entrusts to God the time of his departure from this world, having confidence that it is only by meeting, enduring, and even embracing the trials and sufferings of life, that he can ever be rid of them at all. 

Both kinds of death do involve the desire to escape suffering; but the second kind only desires this as secondary to his desire for salvation, which motivates him to bear those sufferings in the present, that he might have salvation in the future, and for eternity. Whereas the former person forgets his future salvation, seeing only the evils of his suffering. His priorities are backwards, and he fails to realize that his sufferings are means to incomprehensibly good and beautiful end.

Now, it sometimes happens that both these kinds of desire for death get mixed up and intertwined with one another. I recently read that Saint Magdalen de Pazzi, a Carmelite mystic, was quite literally driven nearly to suicide, because of the trials which she encountered in her spiritual life. Thus, it is not guaranteed that in having the second kind of desire for death one will not encounter great temptations to the first, the temptation of suicide; indeed,  on the contrary, it should never be surprising if one does experience such temptations. It is only by overcoming them and retaining the firm will to place one's hope entirely in God, that one is proven to have the legitimate desire for death.

St. Magdalen de Pazzi

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