“Tell me About the Trinity”: Lessons at the Hour of Death
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
I spent yesterday morning at the bedside of a friend who is dying; the night before he had received the news that he has less than two weeks to live. The cancer that he fought with such heroic courage has spread throughout his lymph glands. He is preparing for the passing to the Father with the dignity and beauty that authentic Christian faith forges in a soul.
He has lived a full and fascinating life. He is a staunch and courageous defender of the Catholic faith. He reminds me of the great lay evangelist Frank Sheed - at least what I imagine Frank Sheed was like, since I never met him. My friend loves to tell anyone who will listen of the beauty and fullness of truth found in the Catholic Christian faith. In fact, he will engage any issue concerning that faith, with anyone, and at any time.
As a Deacon of the Church I had the privilege of bringing Viaticum to him. His beloved wife sat next to him, displaying the courage, beauty and dignity of sacramentally grounded, faithful married love. I prayed with them both at his bedside. After the completion of the Service, during a tender and profound moment of silence, he turned to me, focused his piercing, peaceful, and intensely inquisitive eyes upon my own, and asked a question that was so unusual - and so profound- that I have dwelt upon it since. I will carry it within me for many years to come.
“Tell me about the Trinity”, my friend asked, “are they really happy?”
By God’s grace, I was not taken aback by such a profound and unexpected question. In fact, the Holy Spirit gave me an immediate response. “My friend, they are intensely happy -and soon you will join in their joy” I said. “There is a Greek word used in Eastern Christian theology in an attempt to open up the mystery of the intra-Trinitarian relationship to us mere mortals.” I could tell from his eyes that I had captured his attention.
He and I have shared many times about theological truths and the deeper meaning of our Catholic faith. He is a wonderful example of the great gift whom John Paul the Great referred to as the “Lay members of Christ’s Faithful” in his letter that bore that title. A natural theologian, my friend has deepened his own mystical prayer life with a lifelong program of theological and spiritual reading.
“What is it?” he asked
“The Greek word is ‘perichoresis’”, I said. “It is loosely translated as a joyful dance of love. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are joined in continual dance of love and, very soon, you will be invited to join in.” Without missing a beat, a smile broke out on his hollowed face, he leaned toward me and responded: “I hope I can keep up with them”. “You will”, I assured him, “and you will pray for all of us.”
I have learned that people die the way they live. I have seen this truth demonstrated in the past. And here, before my eyes, I was once again witnessing the transforming power of faith and the reception of last gift given to those who really believe; the grace of a peaceful death. A priest friend told me many years ago that the most requested prayer he receives from people facing death is the “Hail Mary”; a prayer that Catholics are taught from their childhood.
In that prayer, after reciting the message the Angel gave to the Virgin of Nazareth, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”, we ask her to pray for us in these words: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” After I left my friend’s home, I prayed that prayer all the way home. I thanked God for the witness of a faithful Catholic man who was ready to die, because of how he lived.
Words quickly became inadequate. I came home and sat in silence.
“Tell me about the Trinity” he had asked me. Yet, he brought me closer to the Dance of love that he will soon join. The entire encounter filled me with unspeakable joy. My friend taught me a lesson at the hour of death; one that I will treasure for eternity.
Deacon Keith Fournier is a married Catholic deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law.
Third Millennium, LLC
http://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
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