There is a story that I once heard about our Father Founder, Father William Lloyd Ryan that really struck me. One day, the hospital had called Father saying that a man was dying and needed the last sacraments. Fr. Ryan, as you can imagine, was speeding down the highway to get to this dying man quickly. The police caught up to Father! However, Father stopped the car in the middle of the road, got out, and went to the police officer. He told the policeman that there was a man who was dying that needed him at the hospital and the officer could follow him if he wants to! Fr. Ryan, with his love for the salvation of souls, understood that every soul is precious to God. He did not want this soul to be lost, rather he wanted this soul to meet God with joy and grace!
I tell this story because it helps me to recall the truth that death is going to come. It is important to ask ourselves “am I ready for death?” In the past few weeks, we have been talking about the daily dying to self, breaking away from attachments and accepting purifications as they come. This might be a good time to stop and meditate on the day that will come when we will take our last breath…the day where we will speak our last word…and none of the comforts of this life will matter. It is in the moment of death where we will know that we are completely and totally loved by God. All the events of our past life in that moment will make sense…the times where we questioned God’s paternal care, and the times where we asked him, “Lord, why is this happening to me?…” suddenly now make sense at the moment of death…it had to be that way, even though I did not understand it in my earthly life.
Often times we do not want to think about death because it scares us…we are afraid of it. This Ash Wednesday, we received ashes on our forehead as a reminder to us that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and we are reminded that one day we are going to die. Traditionally, the words pronounced by the priest in receiving the ashes are: “Remember man, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” With these words, we are reminded of the original sin of Adam and Eve, and how we are all infected with sin as a result of the fall. The Church says we must change our hearts and be converted. We must strive to no longer to be slaves of sin and selfishness, but sons and daughters of God who love. Jesus once said that death comes like a thief in the night, for he warns us with the words: “You also must be ready.” (Luke 12:40). One day, we will stand before the judgement seat of God, where we will see Christ, with His glorious wounds, looking at us with eyes of love. Our judgement will be based on how we have loved. I remember one of our Sisters who was new in formation saying in a very high- pitched nervous tone of voice that in her judgement she was going to have a discussion with the Lord beginning with the words: “I think I did pretty good, what do you think?” Of course, she said this in jest, but are there times where we are just aiming for the minimum in charity and console ourselves saying “I think I am doing pretty good!” In this statement, we are putting a measurement on love. There is no measurement in love…Love just loves.
I always wondered what exactly the Lord meant when he said, “enter by the narrow gate.” (Matthew 7:13) I heard a very wise priest the other day speak about this and he said “the gate is narrow; we will all walk single file.” He was making the point that we should not follow the crowd!! The wide gate leads to destruction, for it is easy, pleasurable, attractive, and sinful and most people are tempted in that way. To these will the Lord say the scariest words in all of Scripture: “I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:23). However, to get into the narrow gate, we must learn not to follow what everyone else is doing!! I think of St. Thomas More who would not agree to the unlawful marriage of King Henry VIII even though much of England was in favor of it. I think of St. Clare of Assisi, who became a Religious even though those closest to her preferred to see her married. I think of St. Rita who could have easily sought revenge when her husband was stabbed, however she chose the way of forgiveness. We must have courage like the saints and persevere in the path of holiness, doing and deciding what is right and true rather than what is easy and sinful.
But let’s talk about being prepared!! If we are like the faithful servants in the Gospel who had their lamps burning a light (Luke 12:35-40), we will not have fear or anxiety over death, rather we will be ready to open the door for the Lord when He comes. But this is not the only time that the Lord comes to us. Although at death we are brought fully into the presence of God, there are other moments in our lives where the Lord makes Himself known to us and comes to us: our Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist and all the other sacraments offer us grace and allow our souls to be more intimately united with the Lord. By our participation in the sacraments we come to be more united with God and are more prepared for death!
Also, if we are confident that Jesus has conquered death by His Passion and Resurrection, and if our lives reflect this truth, we will not be afraid of our death. “Oh death where is thy sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Christ has conquered the grave, and even though “in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Hearing how Jesus raised the dead gives us hope that He will also raise us up. Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). If we trust in this truth, death will not be something we are afraid of, rather something we look forward to with joy!
Further, if we strive in life to always follow the will of God, trying to do everything with the greatest love and care we can be sure that God will give us the grace to have a peaceful death. Accepting the will of God even when it means sacrifice and pain is at the heart of becoming a saint. If we turn our life and death over to the Lord, resigning ourselves to His holy will, then we will embrace our life and death out of love for God. Learning to accept our death, and the hour in which it happens under whatever circumstances that God intends is key to having peace. One day, we want to hear the voice of Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of the Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
Time is very delicate…and we need to use it wisely. Have you made time to visit with your mother who is elderly and lonely? Have you forgiven that person who said that nasty word to you, or spoke that lie to you? Have you made time to listen to someone who is suffering? Have you told the people you love that you love them? Let’s not wait to do these things! Let’s pray that God will transform our dry, cold heart into a furnace of charity…before He calls us home!