十一月是「煉靈月」，也標誌着本禮儀年即將結束，同時提醒我們，有一天總要面對生命的終結。今天、與及往後三星期，我們在專欄探索有關「萬民四末」 —— 死亡、審判、天堂、地獄。
對無靈的動植物來說，「死亡」只是生存末端的一環；但具有靈魂和理性的人類，對「死亡」有着實質的認知 —— 恐懼及難過。
想到死亡，我們便明白在世間沒有永恒的居所。聖若望金口St. John Chrysostom說：「死亡是踏入永恆的歷程。」他又說：「生命如同戲劇，有人演着判官的角色，也有將相和其它的角色；這戲劇過後，任何角色都不存在，亦毫不相干。」
「死亡」讓我們警覺到生命的短暫和時光的寶貴。聖安當St. Anthony the Great院長指示他的修士們，每天早上嘗試想像他們不能活到當天的晚上，或是每個晚上嘗試想像他們不能活到次天的早上; 而所幹的每一件事情都像是終未的一次去幹。聖依納爵St. Ignatius Loyola建議道：「每當要作决定時，幻想一下那是死前一刻要作的决定，那麼，便要從永生之光的角度去作决擇了。」
聖多明我.沙維St. Dominic Savio豪死後向老師聖若望.鮑思高St. John Bosco‧啟示，說：「能讓在我臨終時感到極度安慰的，是想到自己生時是多麼敬愛聖母啊！」
O death, where is thy sting?
November is the month of All Souls, and the liturgical year is ending. We are reminded at this time of the last things. In this article and in the next three, we are going to explore each of the four last things to be ever remembered: death, judgement, hell, and heaven.
Hope of resurrection
Death is the separation of body and soul. Death is inescapable and unavoidable. A hundred years ago most of us were not here; 100 years from now most of us won’t be here any more.
Death is painful for human beings. Plants and animals are irrational creatures. For them death is only one of the thousand accidents bound up with life. Human beings, endowed with reason, apprehend the fact of death. Therefore, in the heart of man, fear precedes death and anguish accompanies it.
We need the comfort of religion to face the reality of death. By His resurrection, Jesus conquered death, and made it temporary. On the last day, there will be general resurrection; the soul will again be united to its own body. In funeral rites, Mother Church reminds us of the resurrection through liturgical prayers and symbols such as the Easter candle.
Saints’ teachings on death
Thinking about death reminds us that we have no lasting home here on earth. St. John Chrysostom said, “Death is a journey into eternity.” He also said, “Life is a play in which for a short time one man represents a judge, another a general, and so on; after the play no further account is made of the dignity which each one had.”
When we die, “life is changed, not ended.” The death of the just is passage to eternal life. St. Augustine said, “The soul is free from its prison at death.” He also exclaimed, “O how sweet it is to die, if one’s life has been a good one!”
Death reminds us of the shortness of life and of the preciousness of time. St. Anthony the Great instructed his monks to reflect every morning that they might not live until night, and every evening that they might not live until morning: they ought to do every action as if it were their last. St. Ignatius Loyola advised, when making decisions, to imagine oneself at the point of death, making decisions in the light of eternity.
Devotion to Mary
During World War II, many soldiers called on their own mothers at their dying moment. In time of difficulty we instinctively long for the comfort of a mother figure. God gives us the most sublime mother figure in the person of Our Lady.
Some years ago a Chinese man shared a story about the death of his mother. She was afraid when death was approaching, and her son, the Chinese man, said to her, “Do not be afraid! Our Lady is beside you!” After hearing these words, she calmed down and was peaceful.
After his death, St. Dominic Savio told St. John Bosco in a dream the one thing that gave him the greatest comfort when he was dying was the fact that during his life time he had great devotion to Our Lady.
When we pray the Hail Mary, we ask Our Lady to help us “at the hour of our death.” Following the teachings of St. Benedict, let us “keep death daily before our eyes” and “look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”