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Religious Hope

April 4, 2012


The Judgement

In my hospice ministry, the majority of people I serve identify themselves as some sort of Christian. And most of those are Protestant. It may have been 30 years since they darkened the door of a church, but they believe in God and heaven and express hope in going there. When you are facing death, this belief is quite helpful. When you life is measured in days or hours, there is not much left on earth to hope for.

About 20% of my patients are Catholics. They may be active in a parish, or may not have attended mass since their Confirmation, but either way they often want “last rites” when the end is near. By the way, if you are Catholic and reading this, please tell all your friends that since Vatican II the rite is has been called “The Anointing of the Sick” and is a blessing and prayer for healing. It is risky to put it off to the last minute. Not only is the sick person is missing out on what can be a beautiful sacrament, you may have to scramble to find a priest. If it is outside business hours, Good Luck! Many parishes don’t have answering services. And even if you do, not all priests are willing to make the visit if they don’t know you.

Those of my patients that are not religious are typically secular. Despite what you hear in conservative churches, most people are not turning to “New Age” religions. People just sort of end up “undefined” without a formalized worldview. They either believe in God or a Higher Power or they don’t. We die the way we live.

It doesn’t really matter to me what people choose to believe. I just hope they have some hope. I find our thoughts are often our greatest source of pain. Sometimes  religious thoughts cause suffering. Even religious people can have an idea “I hope God forgives me.”

One man recently told me, “I’m so afraid. My girlfriend is not right with the Lord.” This image of God, as judge, is consistent with the Bible. The Bible promises a final righting of the scales. The wicked (unbelieving goats) will be sent to the left into eternal fire and pain, the just (believing sheep) will be sent to the right into paradise.

I join people where they are. I don’t try to change anyone’s religion, but point them to some source of hope within their tradition. Christians need to be reminded of God’s mercy and love. They don’t need to hear anything about God’s wrath at that point.

What I do say to people is this. What you see now, what is important to you now as you get close to life’s end, is what is really important. Don’t forget what you learn here. Don’t ever go back to “normal.”

At the end of your life you won’t be thinking about how much you made or what you did. You will be thinking about your family and friends. And hopefully, they will be there for you when it is your turn to die. It all depends on how you live between now and then.

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