I was recently on a podcast called You're On Mute with Aisha. Aisha is a friend of mine, a person who truly desires the best for all people. She is humble and fun and honest. We talked about many things, including the idea of a good death. As part of the podcast, we wrote letters to one another. Below is my letter to her.
I often visualize my own death. In my imagination, it is a good death. I am laying on my death bed, aware that I have reached the end. I am readying to make the final surrender, the biggest transition we must make in our lives—the letting go of our bodies so that we can pass into the next life.
I live my whole life to feel a certain way in this moment. Totally empty, having poured my whole self out for the world, having done everything I could to become the person God invited me to be. I feel satisfied for the gift that has been my life, I give thanks, and I let go.
Then I think about the moment I leave my body and enter the process of joining God. I finally encounter God in God’s total fullness, without any veil. Meeting God, I will say, “I did it, Lord, I did everything that you have asked of me.” And God will smile and say with tenderness, “Thank you.”
I live my whole life for those two moments. The inevitability of my death shapes my life: it shapes my path, my decisions, my heart and mind and soul. It helps me become the person I desire to be for myself, for others and for God. I want to die well, empty, yet totally full at the same time. Full of gratitude and love and joy.
What is a good death look like for you? Every day we witness people being robbed of a good death. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Men experiencing homelessness being shot in their sleep. Indigenous women and girls who are disappeared. Those dying in refugee camps. In the cruel and heartless wars in Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Yemen. Animals dying in laboratories, in factory farms, at the hands of poachers, as if they are objects that mean nothing.
God sees all. Every single creature deserves to die with dignity. May we all do our part to create the world that makes this possible.
We are in a new historical moment. In many countries the majority of Roman Catholics believe women should be ordained to the priesthood. This includes many priests, religious, deacons and bishops who privately believe that women should be ordained as priests, though they remain silent. We have a Jesuit Pope who is truly docile to the Holy Spirit. And many religious traditions and the secular world clearly demonstrate the larger awakening of God's people to gender equality.
Now take this steamy cauldron that has been brewing for many decades and create an opening for people to share their prayer with the bishops and Pope. This is exactly what Pope Francis has done in opening the Synod on Synodality, a worldwide listening process that invites the many, many, MANY people--lay, clergy, religious, and those outside the Church--to make their prayer heard on this issue. It is a crack in the armor that has long surrounded the issue of women’s ordination.
Yet, time and again I hear hopelessness about the synod: nothing significant has happened in the past with synods, so why should it happen now? On the one hand, I get this. When we are disappointed so many times, we learn not to hope: it costs too much. On the other hand, such deep pessimism and resignation do not come from the Holy Spirit, and--in fact--they block the ability for the Spirit to flow freely through us and into the world. Each one of us has a share of the Holy Spirit, and we need to allow the Spirit to communicate through us and out into the world. But if we are mired in pessimism and resignation, then Francis and the bishops cannot really see how the Spirit is moving.
You might say, “But what about those bishops who are blocking an honest synod process by closing down dialogue on this and other issues?” I would indeed acknowledge that, yes, some are up to shenanigans. But, I would also ask, "Do you really believe that the Spirit cannot overcome any of the tricks they are pulling?" The Holy Spirit is *far* more powerful than anything they can dish up. When we feel despair like this, it is because we locate our center in humanity rather than God. The Holy Spirit has been slowly cultivating gender equality in the Roman Catholic Church for a very long time and the Spirit is now poised to make the final push. She absolutely can enter through this crack, however small, and blow the issue wide open.
In order for this to happen, we have to believe in Her. Really believe. And believing means that we have to let go of our past hurts and disappointments and risk hope that the power of the resurrection is right now laboring persistently to bring Church teachings into gospel alignment. All we have to do is to remember the many times throughout history that our God of liberation has prevailed in spite of all of our mistakes, shenanigans, and fears. God does prevail because God loves us.
We are challenged to truly be an Easter people. Let us believe wholeheartedly in God's power to prevail.