St David

Bishop in Mynyw (southwestern Wales), Patron of Wales (entered heaven around 589)

Dear Dave,

Have you ever thought about what your dying words will be?  Lately, I have been thinking about it quite a bit. They have decreased my food ration and increased my “dialogue” sessions (i.e. interrogations).  I feel weak as a drunk bunny. Perhaps my time of trial is coming to an end. Not that I want to be morbid, but this idea of one’s “dying words” is quite interesting.  The challenge is, at least according to literary types, to sum up, one’s entire life struggle in a phrase or a sentence. That would require having lived a meaningful life (at least, if the dying words are to be edifying), and to have lived it consciously, energetically, purposefully.  Many of the saints died uttering phrases from scripture, or simply the name of Jesus or Mary. Today’s saint actually had a great closing line (pardon me for being so theatrical). His monks and neighbors gathered around him to hear his last words: “Be joyful, brothers and sisters. Keep your faith, and do the little things that you have seen and heard with me.”  

They reveal a lot about this most famous Welsh saint, who happens to be someone history has left little trace of.  They show us what he cared about most: not himself, but the souls that he ministered to. (He was of a noble Christian family and received an excellent early education, which culminated in his ordination to the priesthood.  After that, he retired to a Welsh island to learn the art of holiness with the hermit, St Paulinus. Returning eventually to the mainland, he labored tirelessly in the foundation of monasteries and churches, initiating a wave of conversions.)  They also show humility, the most precious of all virtues: he only asks the disciples to imitate him in the “little things” that he has done, thus implicitly deprecating his great achievements as primate of Wales, which consisted in rooting out the Pelagian heresy from the entire country.  Finally, they reveal the central Christian paradox: that true joy comes not from self-indulgence, but from self-denial out of love for Christ. David was one of the Church’s great ascetics; he practiced extreme self-denial and schooled his monks in discipline and sacrifice. He lived in great poverty and purity, and although he provided abundantly for the poor and the sick, he refused to pamper himself in any way, even when he was an old man.  And yet, his last words show that of all the fruits of life in the Holy Spirit, he treasured joy the most. I like that an awful lot; it shows that real meaning and happiness in life go much deeper than bank accounts or celebrity appearances or Nobel Prizes or any such superficial paraphernalia. I can relate to that.

Well, I hope you won’t have to be composing your final speech for many years, but if sometime soon you find that I have gone to the better world and no one was around to hear mine, go ahead and tell them that it was the same as St David’s.

Your affectionate uncle, Eddy

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