“Ask a Priest: Are There Untimely Deaths?”

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Q: Is there such a thing as an untimely death? I have heard it mentioned many times. But if God knows when we are to die, how can a death be untimely? And if there is such a thing, could you please explain it to me? -N.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The term “untimely death” usually refers to people who die relatively early in life, especially when they seem to have had a lot of potential for good.

Obviously God, who knows all of a history in a glance, is not caught unawares. He already knows that someone will die in an “untimely” way. Yet, such a death might be untimely in the sense that God’s perfect plan was for that person to have a long life; for instance, in the case of someone who ruins his life with drugs or alcohol at a young age.

From a worldly point of view, the notion of untimely death reflects a human judgment. That is, we might think that a death needlessly cut short of a life of a person who “could have done a lot more.” But maybe from God’s perspective the person already lived a full life. Maybe that person died in an elevated state of grace — he was a saint. Thus, it is hard to say when a death is really untimely. Likely we will see things with more clarity in eternity.

Given that any of us could face death at any time, it is crucial that we make the most of the time we have. Prayer, acts of charity, recourse to the sacraments – are among the things that help prepare us for the fateful day.

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