What is meant by the expression “the valley of the shadow of death”? I am a lifelong Catholic nearing the end of life. So much has changed over the years that I don’t understand what the Church teaches now about the passage from this life to the next. Do we still believe it is a fearsome struggle to avoid the clutches of the evil one? How can I find peace about this?
Psalm 23 says, “Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm, for you [God] are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage” (verse 4). Some translations use “valley of death.” John Bunyan’s epic The Pilgrim’s Progress speaks of Christian, the main character, as moving through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Although evil is real and God’s ways are often strongly resisted, your best defense is a good conscience, formed by the teachings of Jesus and the help of other believers.
Your uncertainty about passing from this life to the next is not new. Because some Christians in Thessalonika worried that deceased believers would be at a disadvantage at the Last Judgment, St. Paul wrote that they would rise first. Then Christians still alive would join them and Christ. “Thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thes 4:17b). I encourage you to find your peace in Jesus Christ and his resurrection.