Sacred Heart Catholic High School
November 15, 2017
Focus: Keep Death Daily Before Your Eyes.
Back in September, I was vesting to concelebrate the morning Mass when my phone rang. A man had been brought to the ER. It didn’t look good. I took off my vestments and drove to the hospital. As I entered the room with his family and approached the gurney, everything stopped. Rich struggled to breathe, like a fish out of water. I quickly anointed him, gave him the apostolic pardon, and told him his sins were forgiven. The doctors and nurses resumed their activity.
Rich was no stranger to suffering: first a cancer diagnosis and then ALS. He died a couple of days later – the day before his 52nd birthday. His family was crushed. I visited with them again in the days that followed as we prepared for his funeral. They told stories of his life.
Rich had first been diagnosed with the cancer 10 years ago. It was a heavy cross. He suffered much. Yet, he refused to let it get him down. He chose to pick up his cross and carry it rather than allow it to crush him. Instead of lying in bed at home, he chose to sit in the bleachers for his kids’ sporting events and push through the pain. He chose to make jokes and keep his sense of humor with his family even though it would have been easy to focus on his own pain and suffering. His love for his family turned his suffering into a sacrifice – something offered up for the good of his family, and his sacrifice for them revealed the depth of his love. As I said, his family was crushed when he died. The depth of their grief – of their suffering – revealed the depth of their love for him.
The funeral reading they chose was from Book of Ecclesiastes: “God has made everything appropriate to its time.”
As I prepared the homily for Rich’s funeral, I realized that God had indeed made everything appropriate to its time for Rich. The Holy Spirit inspired me to look at the liturgical calendar for the day he died. And there it was: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Rich, who knew the cross so well, died on the very day that reminds us that the suffering of the cross leads to the glory of the resurrection. Rich died on the day that reminds us that Jesus Christ triumphed over the suffering of the cross and transformed death from an impassable wall into a doorway – a doorway that leads to eternal life…if you are willing to walk through it…if you are willing to forsake the wide road that leads to destruction and instead walk the narrow path that leads to eternal life. Death is not the end – it leads to the glory of the resurrection – if you are willing to take up your cross and follow him.
Are you willing to do this?
October was respect life month. October reminded us of the incredible gift God has given us. He has given us life. And not only life, but eternal life. Eternal life with him in Heaven or eternal separation from Him in Hell.
November is the month of the dead.
On November 1, we celebrated All Saints Day. We celebrated the men and women of every time and place, saints known and unknown, saints like Peter and Paul but also saints like Rich, saints who loved greatly and now stand in the presence of God – God who is Love itself.
On November 2, we celebrated All Souls Day. We prayed in particular for those souls who are undergoing their time of purification in purgatory – souls who strove to love but had not yet been perfected in love when they died and needed some purification before they could be ready to receive the great gift of Heaven – to stand in the presence of the One who is Pure Love itself.
All throughout the month of November, we remember and pray for those who have gone before us: grandpas and grandmas, moms and dads, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and friends.
And we are also reminded of something that we often fail to consider. We come face to face with a reality that we don’t like to think about.
We remember that, one day, we will die.
I am going to die.
You are going to die.
Saint Benedict had a saying that he repeated often for his monks:
Keep death daily before your eyes.
Always remember that you are going to die and live in such a way as to be ready for death.
A friend of mine knew a priest who bought his own coffin. His coffin was handcrafted and made of wood. He stood it on its end in his office and installed some shelves so that it could be used for a bookcase. Every morning he’d walk into his office, stop, point to his coffin, and say “I’m coming for you!”
He kept death daily before his eyes.
Last week, the Church remembered Saint Martin of Tours. Saint Martin was a man who lived in the 300s. He was a monk and later became a bishop and was a good pastor for his people. He showed them how to live a godly life, and he cared for those in need. And he kept death daily before his eyes.
Martin knew long in advance the time of his death. When his time drew near, he told his brothers he was about to die. But first he had to make a visit to one of his parishes. The priests there were fighting among themselves, and he wanted to help them reconcile. Even though he knew he didn’t have much time left, he chose to undertake the journey for their sake. Love turned the suffering of the journey into a sacrifice for them.
He spent some time with them, and was able to help them forgive each other and reconcile with one another. He told them he was dying. They were saddened. “Why are you deserting us? Who will care for us when you are gone?” Martin wept and turned to the Lord in prayer, saying, “Lord, if your people still need me, I am ready for the task; your will be done.”
Here was a man that words could not describe. Death could not defeat him and he wasn’t afraid of hard work. He neither feared to die nor refused to live. He was lying on his back on his deathbed. Some of the priests suggested that he should turn over and give his body some relief. He answered by saying: “Allow me, my brothers, to look toward heaven rather than at the earth, so that my spirit may set on the right course when the time comes for me to go on my journey to the Lord.”[i]
Martin kept death daily before his eyes.
Are you living now so that you will be ready to face death?
Here’s the test. If you were to die today, what would other people say about you? What would be your legacy?
Would they say you are generous or would they say that you are stingy?
Would they say you are kind or would they call you a bully?
Would they say that you sacrificed for others or that you only looked out for yourself?
Would they say that they were a better person for having known you? Or would carry within their souls the wounds from their interactions with you?
Would they say that your example of holiness inspired them to pursue holiness themselves? Or would they say that your example of vice led them into sin?
Would they say that you were a man or woman who forgives? Or would they say that you were a man or woman who holds grudges?
Would you be known as a man or woman who loved greatly?
What would others say about you?
What would Christ say about you?
What would your FaceBook page, your Twitter feed, or your snapchats say about you?
Keep death daily before your eyes.
Rich was ready.
Martin of Tours was ready.
[i] From the second reading in the Office of Readings for November 11, the Memorial of Saint Martin.