Nothing focuses the mind quite like death. If you only had 60 mins left to live what would you do with the time remaining?
St Dominic Savio died at the age of fourteen. He was only a 12 year old schoolboy when he first met his mentor, St John Bosco. In his biography of Dominic, Don Bosco preserves a wonderful episode.
One day, when Dominic was playing football with the other boys, Don Bosco asked him, ‘What would you do if you had only one hour left to live?’
It’s a question worth pondering ourselves. Nothing focuses the mind quite like death. Our mortality looming over our daily lives makes it suddenly easier to decide all sorts of things. We can see better what is really important to us, what is worth holding on to, and what we ought to discard.
Maybe if we had just one hour left to live, we might do so many things differently. We might tell people what really matters, we might express our affection more readily, make our peace, forgive our enemies, seek pardon from those we’ve hurt or offended. But it is unlikely that we would spend our last hour doing anything trivial.
The bishop St John Fisher was woken up in prison at 5am to be told he would be executed that morning. He thanked the guard for informing him, and then asked to be allowed to sleep another hour or so, because he was tired. St Dominic Savio, faced with the question of what he would do with one hour of life left to him, replied, ‘I would continue playing football.’
Sleep, and football. Those are the answers of saints. For the rest of us, if we have all sorts of things we would do, then perhaps we should ask, Why haven’t we done all these things already? The martyr-bishop and the schoolboy are both prepared to die. But for us who have left so many things undone and unsaid, I want to suggest that if we are not prepared to die, it might well mean that we are not prepared to live. If we are unready to die, we are unready for living.
Our life has all the semblances of living. But most of these are just mere activity. Activity looks like living; just like social media friends look like friends. They have the appearance of being what they are not, and worse, we allow ourselves to be deceived. And so we can go through life, as though we were living it. But all the while, we have been postponing the most important things. The prospect of an imminent death puts an end to this postponement.
The art of dying well it seems is bound to the art of living well, truly living. To live in love. With trust in God and His mercy. To commit our lives to Him. To genuinely desire what God desires for us. I don’t believe this will make dying easier. But it will certainly make living easier and more fulfilled.
What would I do if I had one hour left to live? I pray I will be able to say something like sleep and play. Only in order to rise again, and rejoice in eternity.