14 November 2021

Do not fear death

33rd Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


Life inevitably comes to an end. Your life, my life will end. What happens next depends entirely on how we've chosen to live the life we were given. Scripture says we're given 70 years, 80 with good health, to grow into a holiness worthy of heaven. If we were left to struggle with our own strength, we'd probably never make it. A tiny few might muscle through, those few who practice spiritual athleticism and win the godly equivalent of Olympic Gold. The rest us would shuffle along, falling, failing, tripping over our own feet and eventually finding ourselves locked out of the Wedding Feast, wailing and gnashing our teeth in eternal darkness. That is, if we were left to compete with nothing more than our acquired skills and innate talents. Thanks be to God! We are not left alone with what were born with. God created each one of us with an embedded and near insatiable desire for union with Him. Imagine if He threw us into this world with such a deep longing and provided no way for us satisfy it! That would be both unjust and cruel. But our Father is neither unjust nor cruel. He gave us His only Son to be our Christ, our Redeemer. And so, the day and hour of your death is nothing to fear.

When our lives will end is not for us to know. Why? Because knowing this should change nothing about the way we choose to live our lives. As members of the Body, the Church, we have taken on the longish task of growing in holiness – day by day, hour by hour. Whether our death and judgment comes tomorrow, next week, or 50yrs from now is irrelevant. The task is the same: be in the world but not of it. How we negotiate this distinction is helped along with the abundant and freely given graces of Love Himself. All we need do is receive all that He gives us and put these gifts to work in proclaiming the Good News – through word, deed, thought, and feeling, we bear witness to the mercy our Father shows us so that anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear might see and hear for themselves that the Christ is Lord. Knowing that I am to drop dead tomorrow afternoon, or a month from Tuesday, or not until my 93rd birthday changes nothing about what I have vowed to do and be in the world. So long as I remain finely tuned to the Father and receive His generous gifts, I have a mission and a ministry. Let death come. I am supremely confident in the Father's mercy, even as I am not so confident in my holiness.

Life inevitably comes to an end. My life, your life will end. What happens next depends entirely on how we've chosen to live the life we were given. If we choose to live lives of disobedience, rebelling against the truths the Father has revealed, He will honor our choices at death and allow us to continue to rebel for all eternity. We call this life of eternal rebellion, hell. How is this choice made? Through sin, obviously. But not so obvious is why choosing sin puts us on the path to hell. When you sin, you choose to be of the world while being in the world, that is, you choose to serve the powers and principalities that hold sway outside the Body, the Church. In choosing sin, you align our heart and mind with the virtues of the fallen: pride, greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Each of these sets up an idol on the throne of your heart. You are ruled – body and soul – by an act of disobedience. In effect, you tie yourself to this world, you bind yourself to a temporary kingdom, a passing prince who cannot and will not satisfy your deepest longing. When death inevitably comes for you, your choices become eternal and like the kingdom and prince you've chosen to serve, you will suffer the consequences of rebellion. The most painful element of hell is knowing you are there voluntarily.

Thanks be to God, hell is not inevitable. Jesus tells the disciples “to learn a lesson from the fig tree.” What is this lesson? Essentially, the lesson is that like the sprouting fig tree signals the arrival of summer, so the signs he mentions signal the arrival of death and judgment. . .“the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky. . .” Eclipses and shooting stars. All of these occur pretty much regularly. And so does death. And judgment follows. So, be prepared. Be prepared to account for the life the Father has given you. Be prepared to show Him a life of bearing witness to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Be prepared to show Him your good works. Be prepared to show him the souls you've brought to the light. Be prepared to stand before Him and let Him see Christ's face in yours. Count for Him the countless times you have forgiven others; shown mercy; loved generously; and stood in the breach, giving your all in defense of the Gospel. Show Him you took His gift of Life and lived in the world but never did you abandon the path of holiness.   

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