A Time To Die: Monks on the Threshold of Eternal Life

Diat, Nicolas

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Jan-21-2020


Nicolas Diat is a French journalist who, over the course of many months, traveled throughout France visiting a number of monasteries.  Because monks live their lives in many ways preparing for death, for eternity, Diat wondered if they had special insights about our final days on earth. "A Time To Die" contains a foreword by Robert Cardinal Sarah; comments by the author ("Extraordinary Stories); eight chapters, each the story of a particular monastery and particular monks; an epilogue; and closing remarks by the author.


In his comments on these "extraordinary stories," Diat writes, "I would like for this book to offer some hope, because the monks show us that a humane death is possible. Twenty-first century man is not condemned to lonely endings, without love, in anonymous hospital rooms" (p.13).  This small but powerful book introduces us to monks whose views of death encompass every human emotion: fear, hope, trust, faith, regret and gratitude--the same emotions laypersons face.  But the monks have prepared for their dying moments: They have lived not only contemplating the meaning of illness and suffering, but also have accepted dying as a natural and essential part of their journey.  When a brother monk is ill or dying, he is never left alone.  Physical tending is done by monks specially trained to administer to the very sick.  They do not turn away from modern healthcare techniques, but they do not rush to fully embrace them.  And they do not forget their departed brothers.  At one monastery, Sept-Fons, the obituaries of every monk who has died since 1845 are read aloud daily.  Thus, death is never far away, and those who have died are still honored and present (p. 91).

At the same time, these monks do not choose suffering.  Pierre Cardinal Veuillot, who "fought a long fight against painful leukemia," said on his deathbed: "'We know how to say beautiful things about suffering.  I myself spoke about it with warmth.  Tell the priests to say nothing about it: we do not know what it is, and I have cried about it.'" The author comments: "In front of a man who is suffering, fine speeches are useless.  They can only satisfy the healthy" (p. 94).  Fully aware of the reality and burdens of suffering, the monks do all they can to relieve and accompany the sufferer.


Modern day caregivers have much to learn from these monks and their stories. Especially touching is the physical and spiritual care giving to dying brothers--and the monks' refusal to give in to the tedium of such repetitive ministrations.  In speaking about the time consuming daily bathing and dressing of another monk, Father Jean-Philippe says, "There is a temptation to give care quickly . . . . How can we avoid a kind of dehumanized routine?  The infirmary monks need to be vigilant so as not to transform a brother into a thing they take care of mechanically and as quickly as possible" (p. 61).  He adds, "I need to know how to lose my time for the sick." This book contains lovely stories, pertinent insights (both spiritual and secular), and lessons that caregivers, lay or professional, might embrace.


Ignatius Press

Place Published

San Francisco



Page Count