A few months ago, my (at the time) five-year-old son interrupted my morning prayer with the question, “What happened to them?” He and my (at the time) three-year-old daughter were looking through their saint book while I prayed from the breviary. On the page were Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, and surrounding them were cartoon bears and warthogs bearing their teeth. (Perpetua and Felicity were martyrs of the early Church fed to the wild animals as a spectacle of delight for the Romans during the Christian persecutions.) My son and daughter understand the concept of death, but such a gruesome death is always hard to explain to children. I simply explained to them, “The animals got them because they loved Jesus, and Jesus took them to heaven.” 

Having had similar conversations before, my son, satisfied with the answer, said, “Right, and it will be a long time before we (he and his sister) go to see Jesus.” I nodded in affirmation, ready to return to my prayer, but then he said something that would stick in my heart. “But for you, it’s really not that long.” I looked at him speechless for a half of a moment. He had said it so simply and matter of fact without any sadness. It was just a statement of something in reality, like a comment about the weather. Regaining my train of thought, I smiled, agreed, and went back to my prayer. 

Those words have caused me to reflect on more than one occasion since the interaction. Being thirty-two years old, my initial reaction was to reject his notion that it ‘really wouldn’t be that long’ before I go to heaven. But it was possible, and I knew it. The Lord may call me home in His mercy to Him at any moment, and I need to be prepared for that moment when I meet Him in His glory. My son’s comment drew me to reflect more deeply on the theological virtue of hope, and not fear death.

Living with the virtue of hope is not just wishing for good things. Rather, it is living life with the eternal good of heaven as our only goal, which can be a very difficult task. We love to be attached to the things of this world. We shy away from pain and suffering. We often do this to preserve our comfortability. But what sin does is prioritize our comfort at the expense of God or our neighbor. We devote our time, energy, and talents to the pursuit of wealth, power, pleasure, or entertainment and neglect to love others. This unrepentant sinful life results in eternal death, separation from God. 

This is Satan’s trap. However, Jesus has won the battle against him, and death has been defeated. It has now become a passageway to eternal life for those who die in Jesus. Death has become a joy, because Satan cannot win. All we have to do is have faith in Jesus, live in hope in heaven, and love God and neighbor for the sake of eternal mercy and salvation is granted to us. However, Satan can distract us. He uses the things of this world (both bad and good) to pull us away from living for heaven. He tempts us to twist our lifestyle to live for ourselves. For such a person, death is a fearful event because we have not accepted God’s mercy.

In this season of lent, we focus on the paschal mystery. We will die, and that experience can be one of fear or hope depending on how we live our lives. We must draw inspiration and grace from the lives of the saints like Perpetua and Felicity to use the good things of this world for the Glory of God and not be distracted by them. In this way, if death is something that is not too far away, we can be assured of the Hope of eternal joy. God desires us. He has done all the work to get us back to them. All we have to do is accept it and live in His life.