A good death – so we may rise

Beloved in Jesus Christ,  During the civil war of Spain, in 1938, the future St. Josemaria Escriva[i] was already trying to guide young people on the path of holiness – even during the war. Now it came to light that one of those young people, was going to be denounced by the Territorial Administrator; this Administrator, Don Jorge, had a vendetta against the boy’s father; and so denouncing him would surely mean his death.  

In his defense, Father Josemaria went to meet with Don Jorge on behalf of the boy, and urged him not do this injustice.  But he was stubborn and full of resentment.  Then Josemaria said to him, ‘I would not like to be in your shoes when you have to be judged before the Lord.  This very day God might ask you to render an account for what you do.’ But the man’s cold heart persisted.   As he left, almost as if thinking out loud he said:  ‘Tomorrow, or the next day, a funeral.’  – In fact, the next day, Don Jorge fell over dead.

Friends, death is certain. Every person at some time in their life must die.  What is not certain, is WHEN our death will come.[ii]  God has already decided the year, the month, the day, the hour when you and I are to leave this earth and go to eternity, but that time is unknown to us. As Christ said, ‘That day will come as a thief in the night.’  

St. Gregory says, God conceals from us the hour of death,  so that we may always be prepared. ‘If he told me that I would die in 16 years, I might be tempted to sin for 15.  Nevertheless, people seem to think they will live forever. Even old people sometimes worry me, putting off confession, they act as if they will live for many more years, or as if they had no sins.  Scripture says, ‘No one knows his appointed time: as fishes are taken with the hook, so we are taken at death, when it suddenly comes upon us.[iii]   

Really, how many people have we known, like Don Jorge who die suddenly: some sitting, some walking, others sleeping? Every day, people in the prime of life, walk out the door  and never return to their home because of an accident.   

Of those who every year leave this earth for the next world, nearly half of them did not expect it to happen.[iv] The majority of them had not prepared by confession, they were not anointed by the Church, and we can be sure that some died even in the very act of sinning. The devil says, ‘it won’t happen to you;’  but of course that’s what he would say.  

Friends, today in the gospel we are face to face with death; Lazarus in the tomb – for 4 days he was there. Dead. We do not know how much warning he had; we know he had been sick; Many people who die – how much they would have given  to have another year or month or even another day to prepare.  Lent is a time for us to face up to the truth of our life; to repent of our sins, and prepare our hearts for Easter. Not just this Easter, but for the Eternal Easter in the world to come.

St. Alphonsus says, if you loan someone a large sum of money, you are careful to get a written security for it,  ‘Who knows, you say, what may happen!?’ But when our eternal destiny is at stake, of whether we are saved or lost,  why do we not take the same care?   

If we were to lose a large amount of money, or even all our property, all would not be lost, it might be recoverable;  but if we lose our soul, then we will have lost everything. ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul.’   
Regarding today’s Gospel, St. Augustine says, Lazarus in the grave represents the sinner dead in his sin.  ‘Take away the stone,’ Jesus said. ‘But Lord, by now there will be a stench.’  St. Augustine says,[v] ‘A stench, yes. Because sin brings a stench to life.’  

We see all the statues covered in purple now; as we approach Good Friday, we see death around us.  We are dying, with the Lord.  We all will go into the grave with Jesus on Good Friday; Christ Jesus, who takes our guilt and the stench of our sins with him into the grave.  But on Easter he will conquer death and sin for us, so that we can be resurrected.  ‘And a loud voice he said; “Lazarus, come out!” ‘And the dead man came out.  

The resurrection of Lazarus is a pre-figurement of our own. It is our hope of being resurrected that makes life really worth living. the Hope of the world to come.  Therefore we must repent of our sins,  in order to gain this great Paradise ahead.   

Our death may be sudden or after a long illness; it may be tomorrow or many years from now.  But if we repent of our sins, and live each moment as God wishes us, doing his will – then we always may have joy,  trusting that Jesus will raise us up.   

St. Robert Bellarmine was once playing billiards with some seminarians;  Someone in the group proposed a question:  if you knew this was your last day on earth, what would you do?   They gave various answers, but St. Robert remained silent.   Finally, they asked him what he would do.   He replied: “I would finish this game of billiards.”   “I began this game with the intention of giving glory to God,  and so I would finish it for the same reason.”  

For the Christian who repents of his sins,  and is doing God’s will, death is not to be feared,  because Christ is more powerful than death.   May the Blessed Virgin pray for us; Mary, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Therese]

 


[i] Dream, and your dreams will fall short.’ – Pedro Casciaro, p. 142.

[ii] Preparation for Death, St. Alphonsus Liguori, p. 59-63.

[iii] Ecclesiastes, 9:12

[iv] Omega, the National Association for End of Life Care has produced a report on ‘End of Life care in primary care.’  The results of this study state that of the 4,487 deaths assessed, 42% could be defined as sudden or unexpected.

[v] Catena, John 11:41-46

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