“Three things render death bitter: attachment to the world, remorse for sins, and the uncertainty of salvation. The death of Mary was entirely free from these causes of bitterness, and it was accompanied by three special graces that rendered it precious and joyful: She died as she had lived, entirely detached from the things of the world; she died in the most perfect peace; and she died in the certainty of eternal glory.”
– St. Alphonsus Liguori
All my life, I’ve thought of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven as something that bypassed physical death. I imagined her ascending into the clouds, accompanied by angels, without ever having tasted death.
But then I began reading reflections by Marian saints, such as St. Alphonsus Liguori, regarding the kind of death Mary must have had based on what we theologically know about her life and perfection in virtue.
St. Alphonsus believed that, because Jesus chose a ghastly human death, Mary also followed in His footsteps to choose physical death for herself. However, many saints also believe that the Blessed Mother died in such a holy and sublime manner that there was no pain, only accompaniment of the Apostles praying at her bedside and the presence of her Son administering His Body and Blood to her as Viaticum.
That got me to ponder what a holy death might look like for us, too, if we glean insights from how Our Lady lived, as well as how she died. Then death would no longer be something we dread or fear, but rather something we welcome with surrender and joy.
Live a Holy Life
Though none other than Our Lady was conceived without sin, the rest of the human race can still strive for holiness according to their states in life. As a married mom of three girls and a little boy on the way, holiness often looks very messy for me. It’s not the lofty vision I had as a child, anyway.
Holiness is a battle for most of us, myself included. We have to fight ourselves and our tendency toward sin, constantly seeking sincere introspection so as to amend the sins that often get entangled in our busyness. Motherhood, for me, is one such battle. I am always internally evaluating what I need to do differently, how to respond to my girls in a particular situation, or how and when to correct and discipline them.
Your fight for holiness will look different than mine, but it is a battle nonetheless. Turn to the Blessed Mother for strength, clarity, and peace.
Build Your Treasure in Heaven, Not on Earth
As a layperson, detachment from worldly possessions is especially hard for me: Should we get rid of the TV? Tablet? Or make them communal tools that we all share? There’s a part of me that longs for monastic life, somewhere in a faraway cave where we can live simply and without the digital, emotional, and material clutter that tends to take over our lives.
Of course, that’s unrealistic. Still, detachment is a real aspect of magnanimity that can be attained. For our family, it’s about living within our means and not beyond it. It’s about giving our first fruits to God, which means we don’t go out to eat or to the movies very often. It means helping those in need, such as our elderly neighbor with cancer or the widow across the street. It involves seasonally purging what we own to donate gently used items, then living with less.
But detachment, to be permanent, must be a change in the heart. That’s where the real challenge is. Our Lady’s example of perfect detachment from the world reminds us that this is how we graze death without fear or reticence: by keeping the eyes of our hearts fixed on Heaven alone.
Strive for Peace in All Matters
Peace doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of conflict. But let’s face it: We don’t live in a society that is peaceful. Everyone seems to be restless. The Blessed Mother “kept all these things in her heart,” which means that her interior peace was never disturbed.
For us, striving for peace includes forgiving those who have hurt us, sometimes severely. I have heard horrific stories recently of victims of abuse and neglect, serious betrayals in marriage, deep-seated wounds from unresolved grief related to sudden death. Forgiveness isn’t just about “letting go;” it’s about the longing for healing.
Peace is also a fruit of the way we live our lives. If we are attentive to the Holy Spirit’s movements in our lives and respond with a generous yes, we will discover the “peace that surpasses all understanding” resides within us, too.
Have Confidence in God’s Unfailing Mercy
As Our Lady approached death, she rejoiced in the nearness of Heaven. Without confidence in God’s love and mercy, where would we be as we also think about our mortality? Presumption leads to reckless living, but hopelessness leads to despair. We have to recall our sins in light of God’s immense goodness and the reality that He does not want any soul He has created to be lost to eternity.
That’s why all of these — holiness, detachment, peace, and embracing God’s mercy — are foundational to a death we don’t fear. And as we pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, let us remember the gift we are asking of the Blessed Mother as we meditate on her Assumption: for a happy, holy death.