|"Death in a Sick Room" by Edward Munch|
About a year or two ago my friends and I watched a beautiful Japanese film entitled Departures. Brielfy, it was about a young unemployed cellist who answers an ad for a job which he mistakenly believes is for a travel agency. Instead, he is to assist in the ritualistic preparation of the dead for cremation.
In the movie, the emphasis is placed on the dead body. The body is washed very carefully and with the gentle and graceful movements that only the Japanese culture can artistically do. It is then dressed and placed in a place of honor in the family home with incense burning, surrounded by the mourning family.
Finally, the body is put in the cremation oven and that is that.
Saint Francis de Sales wrote a letter to an elderly man to help prepare him for his earthly departure. (From Thy Will be Done published by Sophia Press). His words of advice was to help the man prepare his soul, by withdrawing from the world.
"We must slowly withdraw from the world."
"It is not possible...while living in the world, although we only touch it with our feet, we are not soiled with its dust. - St. Leo
As Abraham once washed the dust from his visitors' feet, so must we wash the affections of our souls, "in order to receive the hospitality of our good God in His Paradise."
Saint Francis reproaches individuals who reach old age without having prepared for their inevitable death. "Those who get ready before the alarm is given, always put on their armor better than those who, on the fright, run hither and thither for the cuirass, the cuisses, and the helmet."
His advice to the elderly man seems very harsh and unrealistic as you can see by his following words. However, the goal here is to be worthy of getting to Heaven:
We must leisurely say goodbye to the world, and little by little withdraw our affections from creatures....And since from this miserable land we are to be transplanted into that of the living, we must withdraw and disengage our affections one after the other from this world. I do not say that we must roughly break all the ties we have formed...but we must unsew and untie them."
"Those who depart suddenly are excusable for not saying goodbye to their friends...not so those who know the probably time of their journey. They must keep ready-not, indeed, as if to start before the time, but to await it with more tranquility."
In order to help the said elderly man, St. Francis de Sales recommended to him the following spiritual books to read:
De bono mortis (On the benefit of Death) - St. Ambrose
De interiori domo (On the interior House) - St. Bernard
Certain homilies - St. John Chrysostom.
According to St. Bernard:
The soul should first go and kiss the feet of the crucifix, to rectify its affections and to resolve with firm resolution to withdraw itself little by little from the world and its vanities;
then kiss the hands, by that newness of actions that follows the change of affections; and
finally that the soul should kiss the mouth, uniting itself by an ardent love to the supreme goodness.
This according to St. Francis de Sales, is the true progress of a becoming departure.