32nd Sunday of the Year 2017 (a)
“So stay awake because you do not know the day or the hour”. Sobering words! I hope you are all still awake, I’ve only just started. Some time ago a priest was preaching a long sermon and a man was asleep in the front row. The priest noticed this and said to the man beside him, “can you wake him up?” The man replied that he didn’t think that would be right. “Why not” replied the priest?” “Because, said the man, I wasn’t the one who put him to sleep”!
So far so good, no one is asleep. The wise person, like the five wise bridesmaids, does stay awake and is ready for the unexpected in life. There are two things in life that are certain, said a famous American politician; two things in life that you cannot avoid: death and taxes.
Four people I knew have died recently; one cousin, one old family friend and two priests. One of the priests died suddenly and unexpectedly, all the others had time to prepare before their deaths. People say its a blessing to die quickly. Have you noticed how some, who know they are going to die, make out a bucket-list of things they want to do before they die; so all they had planned to do in their lives is squashed into a short space of time. Some people go on long journeys to exotic places, or go on a cruise, or do something extravagant, like sky-diving, or mountain climbing. I don’t know if any of those I knew who died recently had a bucket-list; I think my cousin may have had, because she has been to some marvellous places recently. But the other priest friend who died didn’t have time; from diagnosis to death was just two months; he was too ill to go any where!
Is it wise to have a bucket-list? Is this a sensible way to prepare for death? Well, it could be provided that it isn’t all a person is going to do. It’s important not to forget the soul. It’s important to pray. Every night before going to bed we Carmelites, like all monks and nuns, say a prayer known as the ‘De Profundis’; one line of it goes, “…At last all powerful master, you give leave to your servant to go in peace.” Now that is what I consider to be the most important preparation for death; “to go in peace”; at peace with God and with my fellow men and women. And if I am at peace then I am ready to go anytime, quickly or over a long period of time. This is wisdom; praiseworthy wisdom. The kind of wisdom you find in the gospel.
Our society seems to has a phobia about death. It is a taboo subject that polite people do not discuss. However, the Church, in its wisdom, does talk about death, forcing us to think about it, even if we don’t want to. And it does this by devoting the last few weeks of the Church’s year to readings that focus on death and after life, heaven and hell. The kind of things we’d normally not think about.
The wisdom of the gospel is telling us that death can come at anytime. Or, as Matthew puts it: “So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour”. Of those four people I knew who died, three had had time to reflect on their death but one didn’t. However, he was a good man, a good priest, and I’m confident he was ready. Be at peace with God and with all men and women, then you will always be ready. And if you are not, then don’t wait. If you have hatred in your heart or even fallen out with someone, if you haven’t spoken to a close relative in years, then do something about it. Make amends. Say sorry. Why not go to confession; it brings healing and peace. Be at peace with all; with yourself, with others with God; and then you will be a wise person and always be ready for that one certainty in life.