There’s a book that was published in 1970 by Harold Sherman that had a title that made potential buyers want to buy the book: How to Foresee and Control Your Future. We all have a desire to control our future. Lucifer knows this. The lie that he successfully told Eve was that she and Adam would never die, which implied that if they ate from the tree of good and evil, they would be able to exercise complete control over their lives forever.
The sudden death of a person you love is a mortal blow to the concept that you have control over your own life. The essence of being able to exercise control over your own life is that you must also be able to control the lives of the people who are around you.
The shock that comes with the sudden death of someone you love is always accompanied by the one question that screams out for an answer — “Why?”
Why did he have to die now? Why did God take her from us? Why couldn’t it have been me instead of him?
While we can never really know with certainty what the answer to those questions are, there are legitimate reasons why God would allow the sudden death of an individual. Here are some of the reasons:
1. The Sacrificial Lamb – Last week, I wrote about the sudden death of my wife’s 19-day-old niece, Natalie, in 1978. She was baptized before she died. The Catholic Church teaches that a baptized child who has not yet reached the age of reason — which is ordinarily seven years old — goes directly to heaven when he or she dies.
Why does God allow a baptized child to die? The most common reason is that the child’s family is going to need the child’s help in the future to keep peace in the family, to help the members of the family get along, and to help each member of the family get into heaven. In His infinite wisdom, God knows that the child’s family members are going to need an advocate in heaven who will be able to provide assistance to each of the family members.
As Catholics, we believe that when a person goes to heaven, God allows that person to see the challenges that his or her loved ones are facing on earth. The person can then pray for those who are in need and, if necessary, petition God for special assistance.
2. A Perfect Match – Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who is commonly known as “The Little Flower,” died when she was 24 years old. Why did she die so young when she could have accomplished so much more for humanity if she had been allowed to live another 60 years? She died at a young age because she had reached perfection and her work on earth was finished.
No person can enter into heaven until that person has reached perfection. The purpose of purgatory is to purify and perfect those people who die in the state of grace, but have not reached a state of perfection. There is a very small percentage of young people who have reached perfection and are ready to enter into heaven.
Regardless of age, when a person reaches perfection and has completed his or her work on earth, that person becomes a perfect match for heaven and is welcomed into heaven by our Lord. The person’s entry into heaven occurs even though the person’s family members are not yet willing to let go of the person.
3. A Wake-up Call – My first experience with a sudden, unexpected death was when my cousin Tommy LaHood died. Tommy was 11 years old when he died as the result of a tragic accident. I was a year older than him. Tommy was the third child in a family of nine children. He had one sister and seven brothers. Tommy was different from his sister and brothers. He was humble, sensitive, compassionate, kind, and courageous. He thought about others before he thought about himself. He was the shining star of the family.
After Tommy died, I couldn’t figure out why God would allow a young boy with such a bright future to be taken from his family. It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that there are times when God allows the shining star of a family to die so that everyone who knows the person will be forced to wake up from their spiritual slumber and reevaluate their lives.
When a shining star is suddenly lost, the people who are left behind have no other choice but to reevaluate their own lives and commit to following the example of the person they lost. It’s common for a family to lose the one child who had the most potential. The loss of that child often turns out to be a life-altering event that ends up having a dramatic and positive impact on the family members who are left behind.
4. The Departure of a Hero – You may have heard of Nick Murphy, a young Catholic man who graduated from Peoria Notre Dame High School in 2015. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Pensacola, Florida.
Last month, while Nick was crossing a street with two of his friends — 18-year-old Breona Mackoff and 19-year-old Zachary Meehan — a car plowed into him at a high rate of speed. Immediately prior to the collision, Nick had seen the car coming toward Breona and he reactively pushed her out of the way. As soon as he pushed her, the car hit him head-on. While both of his friends were injured, Nick died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident.
Breona’s parents later said that Nick was a hero because he saved their daughter’s life. There is no doubt that Nick was a hero because he performed a courageous act without having to think about it first. Most people don’t act heroically when given the chance. Instead, they hesitate. With Nick, there was no hesitation. His heroic qualities were built into him and only appeared when he was tested. God allowed him to die so that another person could be saved. His death was necessary, so that the life of a fellow human being could be spared.
5. A Merciful Death – Sometimes God allows a person to die suddenly because if the person were allowed to live, he or she would later fall into sin and die in the state of mortal sin, which would condemn the person to hell for eternity. The reason that the sudden death is allowed is because in His infinite wisdom, God knows that in the future, the person would commit a mortal sin that would cause him or her to fall out of God’s favor.
In His infinite wisdom and mercy, God allows for the sudden death of the individual so that his or her soul can be saved from damnation. One reason that God may allow this special grace is because a family member or friend is praying for the person. The person is allowed to die while his or her soul is in a state of grace. While the person’s soul may have to be purified and perfected in purgatory, he or she will still be able to eventually enter into heaven.
These are only a handful of the reasons God allows a person to die suddenly. If you take a close look at each of the reasons, you will notice that of the five reasons listed, Jesus qualified for four of them — the sacrificial lamb, a perfect match, a wake-up call, and the departure of a hero. He didn’t meet the qualifications of the fifth reason because He had never sinned, and if He had lived, He would not have sinned in the future. However, His death was an act of mercy because He sacrificed Himself so that you and I would have a chance to spend eternity with Him in heaven, along with our loved ones and all the angels and saints.
If someone you love ever suddenly dies, trust that the reason that God allowed the death to occur was for the benefit of that person and the person’s family members and friends.