Awaiting the End

At the end of our lives the yearning for God innate in all of us is more and more revealed.


July 19, 2023

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 “In my end is my beginning.”    
T.S. Eliot

If it is true that there is a God, and that He has made us for Himself alone, then no sooner do we become aware of that fact, of God wanting to welcome us into His life, than we find ourselves longing to be united with Him.

“I to my Beloved, my Beloved unto me,” is how the great mystics put it. And the attraction, we need to insist, which is greater than the gravitational pull of all the planets, is no less real for those who may not have the wit with which to say it. Or, in the case of those who are very ill, the ability to say it. That is because the desire for God is written upon the human heart, which is always and everywhere the same heart. 

The human thirst for God, I am saying, for all that finally transcends the things of this world, is not the exclusive preserve of Carthusian monks. It is not limited to those privileged souls who have somehow managed to corner the market on holiness. Because, without exception, we have all been privileged in that way, called from the very first moment we awaken to an awareness of the Other, of God. Our destiny, therefore, is to be joined forever with God in the blessed company of His angels and His saints.  

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All this and more came home to me recently when, leaving Ohio to visit with my sister in Arizona in the last days of her life, I saw at once with my own eyes the clear, unmistakable sign—confirming that, yes, we are indeed made for God and that He will have us in the end.  Not without our consent, of course, and perhaps not straightaway. But in soliciting that permission to let go and to let God, it seemed clear to me that my sister was ready and resolved to return home, to fall at last into the arms of a loving God.  

And why should she not wish to go home to God? After all, He is the very God for whom she had first been made, then remade, owing to the sacrifice upon the Cross that purchased eternal life for us all. Provided, of course, we choose to go, knowing that we are likewise free to refuse, to return the ticket.

Before all this she seemed to me most ready and willing, serenely so, to accept the offer. Yes, but such a long time she has been at it! For weeks she has lingered, with eyes opened wider than I could ever remember, staring into some limitless vista, seeing (she tells me) the faces of loved ones who have gone before her, into that far country from which there is no return, nor any desire to return. 

And because she appears most eager to enter that world, it is no act of justice we perform when we impede or try to thwart what amounts to the final leg of the journey. Not, heaven forbid, that we should do anything to hasten the journey; but, at the same time, we mustn’t try to prolong by needless and extraordinary measures a life whose end is so near at hand. 

So, who are these people she sees? What do they say to her? Does she speak to them? These are questions I want to ask her. And do. Only she cannot exactly say. But that the faces she sees are real, close and consoling, is as certain to her as anything in this world, even as they appear to beckon her beyond this world.

They are, it seems, often the faces she first saw when she was young, shades of lost loved ones, who, by a special grace, fleetingly show themselves to her, conveying an almost palpable presence that, however brief, is yet benign and gracious. 

It has reminded me, more than once, of the last lines of that lovely Newman poem, “Lead, Kindly Light,” in which the poet, knowing that the gloom of night will soon be gone, announces, “And with the morn those / Angel faces smile / Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.”  

My sister does not, “amid the encircling gloom” of which Newman speaks, “ask to see / The distant scene….” Much less is she disposed to demand immediate possession of it, the imperious note not being her style. It is instead, “one step enough for me,” believing that God will carry her safely across the finish line when her time has come to go ever so gently into that good night.

But why not now? Why must she still have to wait? How unfair it seems that God should keep her dangling indefinitely. Stretched upon a wire He must surely know, even as we know, cannot long support so frail and tenuous a mortality. It cannot be wrong to ask for a blessed release, to petition God for a summons she has for so long awaited. 

In fact, God wants us to ask Him for things, to persist in such petitions that accrue to our own final felicity. We have it on good authority that while God may not give us what we want at this moment, He may do so later, but only because He wishes to stretch the muscles of our desire in the meantime. That way we know that it is really God Himself whom we desire. 

And thus in our learning to long for Him, suffering to await His presence, all other desires may be purified, subject to the refining fire which alone drains them of their dross. That way, when He does come at last to call her home, she will recognize Him at once and, please God, all the more easily cross over the line, ever more diaphanous, that separates her from the Lord for whom her soul truly longs. And thus in our learning to long for Him, suffering to await His presence, all other desires may be purified, subject to the refining fire which alone drains them of their dross.Tweet This

“Grant, O Lord, that I may lose myself in the peace of thy presence,” writes Francois Mauriac, in words that surely apply to all, but especially to those who, like my dear sister so near to death, hope to find themselves before the face of a loving God, who has longed for them more than they could possibly imagine and whose blessed face they will, if it please Him, shortly discover to their eternal advantage. May these be the words of her own heart at that moment:      

So that when my hour comes, I shall pass through a transition almost insensible, from you to you, from you the living bread, the bread of mankind, to you, the love alive, already possessed by those of my own beloved who have gone before me into thy shelter.

That moment came this week. At the very moment, in fact, when a dear priest friend of mine, asked to pray for her, had just begun the Mass at which he promised to remember her before God.

May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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