Living a Good Death or Dying for a Life Well Lived: Theological Understanding and Pastoral Applications on Issues Regarding Death and Afterlife Issues Among Vietnamese-American Catholics

Tuan Ngo


In this thesis, I contend that living a good death demands dying for a life well-examined and well-lived. I will approach this study from the historical, theological, and interreligious perspective. Historically, I will examine how the traditional Vietnamese understanding of life after death and its relationship with loved ones is influenced by Buddhist and Confucian elements. Theologically, I will analyze how life after death is understood through Christian history. As noted above, theologically I will make specific use of St. Francis de Sales’ attachment to “Jesus Christ crucified”.

While my exploration will largely be theoretical, my ultimate goal is pastoral application. As such, it will draw from the lived experiences of faithful Catholics who are seeking meaning as they approach the end of life. My use of test cases and case studies will indicate the challenges within the overall project: how to effectively apply these theological disciplines to the lives of the faithful. The theological exploration that precedes these cases will help systematize these experiences in light of my claims about a good death. In this way, I and other ministers may more fully enter into the lives of the those whom we serve and effectively meet their spiritual and pastoral needs.

As one who works and interacts with the Vietnamese-American faithful, I contend that a deeper understanding of how Vietnamese-American Catholics prepare for the moment of death, an understanding that specifically considers the interaction of cultural and religious factors, will help a pastoral minister to encourage an individual to make changes in his or her life, with their eternal end in mind. This enhanced understanding will help the minister be more effective. In doing so, I hope it will also lead the faithful into a deeper understanding of God and the transformation that necessarily takes place, through their actions and decisions during life, as one moves into a more intimate relationship with the Divine.