Deathbed Conversions & Matthew 24:42-51

Life of George Washington, Deathbed

In his Confessions, Saint Augustine describes a fundamental longing of human nature, “our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest you.” There is an innate desire in human nature to be in union with God. Most people can recognize this reality immediately even if they are not prepared to admit it or live it. Some people who recognize this absence in their souls, in their vanity, think that they’ll have an opportunity to make amends on their deathbeds. Lived experience teaches us the longer we persist in habits the harder they become to break; it’s easier to have one cigarette and never smoke again then to smoke for a decade and suddenly try to stop. Not living as God’s friend takes a similar grasp of a person.

Our Lord, however, reminds us that we don’t know when he will come for us and that he will come for us when we don’t expect it (cf. Matthew 24:42,44). This is why the idea of delaying conversion until the point of death is foolish. Sudden calamity can never be fully ruled out; we see examples of this everyday in the news. Modern medicine is able to heal infirmities, reduce pains, and extend life in ways that would have seemed impossible a generation ago. Towards the end of life palliative care seeks to show compassion and ease the sufferings of individuals. Unfortunately, many families try to hide or mask the immanent death of a loved one by recourse to various painkillers and other sedatives. The result is that a person could miss their last opportunity to make an act of faith or confession before loosing consciousness. Pope Pius VII and Saint John Paul II both taught that persons near death, “ought to be able to satisfy their moral and family duties, and above all they ought to be able to prepare in a fully conscious way for their definitive meeting with God.”

Jesus’ message for us in Matthew 24:42-51 is that at every moment we should be prepared to meet him. Devotion to the saints is particularly helpful to this end, because their lives serve sure pathways. More than their example, it is the intercession of the saints which helps keep us ready for our definitive meeting with the Lord. If we sigh now with Saint Augustine, “our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest you,” then surely God will make sure that we rest in him.

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1 Comment

  1. Margaretann Aquaro says: Reply

    Unfortunately the reality of this strikes us only with the sudden loss of a loved one. Then we are left to ponder the eternal fate of their soul. St. Monica prayed and sacrificed daily for her son and lived to his conversion. So we should never stop praying for our loved ones and then have faith that our merciful Jesus will soften their hearts. Thank you Father Gerald

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