Yesterday, I rushed to the hospital to Baptise and anoint someone (let us call him John) who was dying in ICU. Although John had been attending Masses in the past years with his family, he somehow never got Baptised. Last week, John, his wife and daughter were all so happy with the successful operation, but suddenly in the past few days, John contacted pneumonia and became critically ill. His wife and daughter were shocked and very saddened by the turn of events, and looked for a priest desperately to Baptise John and anoint him.
John’s wife and daughter were visibly consoled after the Baptism and Anointing as their faith in God were renewed. Within the deep pain of seeing their husband and father dying, they experienced strength from God through their faith in Him; that even if John were to die, they would not really lose him totally because as John gains eternal life with God, he would still be alive to them at all times.
What John and his family are going through is also the story of each of our lives and what we have to go through. Whatever we have and regardless of how dear someone is to us, one day, we have to let them go, as our life on earth is only passing.
In a more striking and graphic way, in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that the sun will be darkened, the moon will loose its brightness and the stars will fall from the skies. These are signs that the world will come to an end; everything in life will fall apart and we will be reduced to ashes; nothing that we possess will remain except the type of life that we have led and the good that we have done.
Do we believe in the end of the world? Some of us would probably say, “Yes, we do, but we are not too conscious of this truth in our lives.” Do we realise that in each Mass we actually profess the truth of the end of the world, and the coming of Christ many times? In the Nicene Creed we say, “He (Christ) will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.” We end the Creed by professing, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, Amen.” During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we also proclaim the mystery of faith by saying, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Elsewhere too in the Eucharist, this truth is proclaimed.
One of the reasons why some of us are not too conscious of the end of the world in our daily living is perhaps we have fallen too deeply in love with the secular world that we have created for ourselves. While a lot of things in this world are good and needed, our tendency and temptation is to give them so much attention that we have little attention, time and energy left for God.
While we are good people, let us test ourselves with some basic questions. For example, while it is good that we work hard daily in our careers, how much of the 24 hours each day do we give to God in prayer? How often do we remember God during the day? How much importance do we give Him in the different situations of our daily experiences? Do we allow our emotions to control us when we are upset, or are we able to transcend and discern His Will? Do we compromise the Gospel values when we are tested and tempted in difficult situations?
However, if we strongly and consciously accept Jesus’ caution of today’s Gospel that our world will one day come to an end, and we will one day die and be reduced to ashes, then we will realise that what really matters in our daily life is really not what we have; not how we look, but how we have loved, the good we have done, the compassion that we have shown and the like.
Our life after we die is inseparable from our present life. Our present life continues into our eternal life, and thus death is only a passage for us to enter into eternal life. This also means that everything that we do and say does not end in this world; all our words and deeds, all our failures to do good have not only earthly effects on others, but also eternal effects on how our lives would be like after we die. This means that if we live in Christ-like ways on this earth, then the fruits of such living will not only be experienced in this world, but continued for all eternity.
Our Lord in the Gospel says that there are those of us who will be greatest in heaven and those of us who are least in heaven. I think it is not difficult for us to understand that all of us will experience the fullness of eternal happiness differently.Mother Teresa and the many martyrs who loved God throughout their lives and served His people selflessly because they loved God so fully in their earthly life, would experience a more intense happiness with God than a self-centered person who repents for his grievous sins at the moment of death and marginally makes it to heaven, so to speak.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that death and the end of the world can come any time; eternal life too is a reality and a divine gift that we should not take for granted. In today’s Gospel Jesus is challenging all of us to be vigilant in the way we live our daily lives. Whatever happens in our earthly life, affects our eternal life. Thus, there is no better wayto live than to focus our attention on living our present life at all times in Christ-like ways.
And when we are able to live in this manner, we will not only enjoy happiness now but, for ever; we have everything to gain and nothing to loose,now is the time to live in Christ-like ways because eternity begins here and now.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.