We are all too familiar with the horrors of suicide but now another phenomenon has hit the Irish scene where a family dies together. The tragedy is compounded by the thought that they may not have been of one mind and the setting fire to the house, as occurred this weekend, may not successfully conceal what led to the disaster. No doubt many factors contributed to the event but the notion that they would be together forever may well have influenced the distraught mind.
It’s only two weeks ago since Nuala O’Faolain gave a memorable radio interview reflecting on her feelings when confronted with terminable cancer. She highlighted the world of difference between thinking about your death and knowing your departure date. For her, it was the sense of loneliness this information created that made the difference between merely reflecting upon death and her present situation.
Her chief regret was the waste of all her accumulated knowledge, leading to the conclusion that life was meaningless.
Her desire to say her goodbye’s and fade into the dark may well be shared by many. Death is the ultimate paradox. It seems so unjust, so wasteful and such an unwelcome intrusion into life. It is described in the Bible as the last enemy. It’s articulated in the often repeated plea to the Virgin Mary for her intercession “now and at the hour of our death”.
The desire that it might be made all right at the end suggests that we know it has not been all right! Making peace with God, even if you are not sure of his existence, has a near universal appeal.
Leaving getting right with God till the end presupposed that to do so earlier would somehow be restrictive. Whereas the elderly farmer’s cheerful answer to the hospital chaplain, “I thatched my roof in the summer” testifies to the wisdom of accepting God’s offer of forgiveness to prodigals who come to him in the prime of life.
The Bible never promises us tomorrow but it does offer us the opportunity to come to him today. In St Paul’s words, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” Thatch your roof in the summer!