Death: a place of truth and mercy

Death: a place of truth and mercy

King David is the perfect example of a person forgiven by God who has started a new life having received an abundance of forgiveness. The experience and meditation on death can be a privileged way to discover God’s mercy and find out the truth about Him and about ourselves.

“What is the truth?” by Joseph Maria Subirahcs, on the front door of the Facade of Passion of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona


Reading: 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12 

This homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:

Who is this man talking to his son on his deathbed? Someone may answer: ‘He is the wise king David, the anointed of the Lord, the sublime singer of His praises, who is now speaking so piously to his son, commanding him to keep always the Law God has given to his people’.

But someone else could answer: ‘He is a murderer and an adulterer and, what is more, the son he is speaking to is the child he has had with that very woman he stole. He was not very compassionate when he had to kill the poor husband of the girl he was madly in love with!’.

Which of them is telling the truth about David? The first answer may seem right (maybe a bit too high-flown) but the second one sounds rather unkind, frankly unacceptable for a man who is about to die. Yet, isn’t it what King David has really done in his life? Does the rudeness of manners and words diminish somehow the truth of what is said?

This is exactly the point: what is the truth about a person, especially someone who is about to pass away, someone who is about to die?

We usually stick many truths on other people and on ourselves. Feelings like disappointment can be bad allies in occasions where we are called to judge a person or a situation. We can be very quick to be disappointed by other people’s mistakes, and to justify with it our condemnation and lack of forgiving. To this extent, the society as a whole, led by a tendentious use of the media, is often a very cruel arbiter. Many people are never really given a chance to get rid of their wrong past actions, because no one would entrust them a little room in the future.

Not less often, we can be very harsh also on ourselves, sometimes being the last ones to forgive our very errors. Or sometimes never really forgiving ourselves…

In all these cases, we are still far away from the truth. If the Truth is Jesus the Crucified, then the truth on each of us is to be found in Jesus’s gaze upon us from the cross.

The French Dominican sister Anne Lecu tells how she deeply understood the mystery of Salvation working in prison. The prisoners would look at the Crucifix and begin crying because they could feel that Jesus was a condemned person like them, refused by the society, and so if he was like them, he was also with them!

Getting closer to death can give us a privileged view to learn God’s way to look at the world. The motto ‘Memento mori!’ has been a refrain in Christian spirituality for centuries. Now, although it is good to dismiss the gloomy implications of these words, we could find in this expression a precious teaching for our life. Remembering that we are to die reminds us that we are bound to embrace God, who has been waiting for us for all eternity. Thinking of such a delightful destiny makes this life even more worth living with passion and positive engagement, full of hope for our future and eternity. If we live right now in that mercy which we are going to meet clearly one day, we can also learn to forgive ourselves and each other as forgiven by God too.

This view of death as a moment full of hope and joy has been wonderfully depicted by Henri Nouwen. In his book ‘Beyond the mirror’, he talks about his experience of death after a serious accident. These are his words: ‘What I experienced then was something I had never experienced before: pure and unconditional love. Better still, what I experienced was an intensely personal presence, a presence that pushed all my fears aside and said, “Come, don’t be afraid. I love you”. A very gentle, nonjudgmental presence, a presence that simply asked me to trust and trust completely’.

Drawing closer to death can make us closer to the Truth, which is God’s gaze upon us. On that day the veil which hides us the Mystery shall fall, and ‘we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1Jn 3,2).

So, now we may be able to answer who is this man about to breath his very last breath.  This man is a complex man. We are all complex. But we find a true simplicity in the gaze of the Lord. It is not the false, “black and white” simplicity of the media, but the simplicity of God. So, we can say that this man is David, the shepherd son of Jesse, the king God has chosen for his people, the vessel into which the Lord has poured out his mercy letting him to start a new life strengthened by his forgiveness. David has sung so beautifully the praises of God because he has experienced his goodness. In his psalms, he does not cease to repeat: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good!’ (Ps 33).

In his writings, we can already foresee the fullness of truth on God and on us that we shall find in the New Testament: God ‘is forbearing to you’ (2 Pt 3,9) because ‘God is Love’ (1 Jn 4,8), and ‘love is patient and kind’ (1 Cor 13,4).

Br Giovanni Castellano was born in Italy in 2000. He attended high school in his small town in Sicily, and then he joined the Order of Preachers in the Province of St Thomas Aquinas, in southern Italy. After one year of postulancy, he entered the noviciate in 2020. He is now living in Oxford, where he is beginning his first year at Blackfriars Studium. Before becoming a friar, he enjoyed travelling a lot, and so is it now, as well! In his free time, he likes reading good books and spending time with old and new friends.

Comments (3)


    Thank you it is lovely to hear your voice take care Christine

  • Patti Earl

    Thank you so much for this. I seem to have spent too much of 2022 attending funerals. That is the fate of we oldies! Your homily gives much to make us think about death in a wider Christian sense. It is easy to become so wrapped up in our own grief that we fail to see the whole picture and to appreciate God’s mercy.

  • Georgia

    Thank you. Reassuring and comforting
    My mother passed away recently


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