A couple of days ago, one of my close relatives who has long been suffering from various ailments told me after getting out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in a hospital that she wished to die. Further she said, “Why God did not take me to himself as I almost reached the other end”. In a word of comfort, I tried to convince her that God takes his time and we should be ready that moment when he calls unexpectedly. Just as Jesus said, the owner of the house would come when we do not know exactly when that day and time would come (Mk 13:35). Unfortunately, long illnesses and on and off hospitalizations, makes a person suffer ceaselessly and loose interest to live. The best solution then one thinks of immediately is of death, when sorrows, anxieties and bodily pain will be laid to rest forever. However, I sympathize with her feelings and a holy desire because more than once I too have prayed for death when things got terribly out my control and doctors could not help to reduce the pains and my body suffered so much causing mental agony and torture.
Praying for a good death is considered a holy desire in Christian spirituality. When we pray “Hail Mary full of grace” the Angel’s greeting to Blessed Mother Mary the prayer concludes with “Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen”. A prayer which, constantly reminds us of the moment of death when the strength has to come from above.
The constant bodily tormentation with mental suffering caused by painful episodes of illness and effects of chronic disease, certainly leads one to pray for holy desires. When a person is very low in his mental attitudes negativism aggravates already dull moments. Thus praying for holy desires or having an attitude of positive feelings helps to lift up the spirits. It is better to be more joyful and happier than depressed and dejected. A beautiful Russian expression Держать в руках (derzat v rukax) hold tightly in your hands reminds that when we suspect that things are getting out of our control on things which we hold, we should never let it be loosened. A lot of times pessimism, discouragement, apathy, weakness, might over take us but should never loose hope and loose our hands from holding on.
Saint Peter Faber (1506-1546) a cofounder of the Society of Jesus and friend of Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote extensively on holy desires in his spiritual testament “Memoriale”. His feast day is celebrated on 2nd of August by the Catholic Church. He lived just for 40 years and known to have called for his insistence on dialogue in resolving any sort of conflicts including with Protestants of his time in Europe. Here is a small paragraph from his spiritual diary.
“On the day of Saint Francis, I was reflecting on how to pray well and on different ways of doing good, I wondered how holy desires in prayer are, as it were, ways of disposing us to perform good works and, on the other hand, how good works lead us to good desires. I then noted, indeed clearly perceived, that, by seeking God in good works through the spirit, one will more readily find him afterwards in prayer than if one had sought him first in prayer so as to find him subsequently in good works, as is often done. For he who seeks and finds the spirit of Christ in good works makes much more solid progress than the person whose activity is limited to prayer alone.” (St Peter Faber, in Memoriale, 126)
- Olvin Veigas