Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel. In that Gospel, Jesus called the rich man “fool” because his riches was amassed through greed as he did not share is rich harvest with his brothers. Moreover, he also presumed that he was going to live a long life; not realising the fact that, that very night he was going to die, and thus lose all his material riches.
In that Gospel, Jesus’ focus was not so much on the reality of death, but more so, on the importance of living a God-centred life of truth and justice. However, in today’s Gospel of how the Master can return to the servants of his household at any time, Jesus is reminding us to reflect on the reality that the Second Coming of Christ or our personal death can spring on us at any time.
If death can spring on you and I at any time, regardless of where we are or who we are, then this must be a basic question that every person must face and not run away from. Thus, if we dare to reflect on this reality and on what would happen to us after we die, this will do us a lot of good spiritually and in every way.
St Ignatius of Loyola himself would support this idea, especially for those of us whose faith and relationship with the Lord are weak and fragile. A good contemplation for us this coming week could be, to go into prayer and imagine yourself in person on your dying bed . . . and we are about to meet God . . . How do you think you would be feeling in these last moments of your life? Would you be at peace at how you have lived your life . . . at how you have used God’s abundant blessings during your life time . . . how you have spent your wealth . . . and used your time . . . and lived with your family. . . and related to those who have hurt and harmed you . . . have your forgiven them . . . when? How? Who? How did you and the forgiven person feel? . . . or how have you reached out to the poor, needy, sick and aged . . . and the like?
How do you think your contemplation would be like . . . What do you think you would be hearing about yourself during your eulogy . . . who would be giving it? What would your spouse, children, relative, friends, colleagues, your maid, gardener, garbage collector, fruit seller, beggars be whispering and saying about you? Would God be pleased with you . . . and welcome you with open arm at the gates of heaven or would He be sad at how you lived your life and squandered all His blessings on your self needs?
Death helps us to confront the core truths of our earthly existence, if we are courageous enough to face it, and wise enough to accept it. This is because the quality of peace at our death in many ways reveals to us the quality of our earthly living. A person who has lived a God-centred and Christ-like life would not only face his death with much peace and courage, but look forward to his death with much joy . . . at the prospects of meeting God face to face. Whereas, another person at death may be experiencing much sorrow, guilt because of his sins, or fear because he is not able to let go of his attachments in life.
At the core of our being is the reality that God has created us with the innate goodness to love, care and share with one another. There is a true story of the actress Helen Hayes, who is one of the few actresses who have won the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award. She said that the most painful period of her life came after her nineteen year-old daughter died of polio. She said that leaving her daughter behind and gathering up the fragments of her broken life was the most difficult thing she ever experienced. But, she worked her way through it . . . She then raised lots of money and did many wonderful things for the fight against polio because her daughter had died of the disease and she wanted to help others to avoid dying from polio if she could. Many years later, she gathered all her possessions and sold them in a public auction and gave the money away to polio research, to poor people, and to charity. When asked why she sold all her possessions and gave the money away, she answered, “I said good-bye to my daughter and to all my material possessions so that as I move in to the future . . . I will not be burdened with any excess baggage when I die.”
If such goodness is in our hearts is further blessed with the gift of faith, then our goodness can draw us into a deeper spiritual reality of our deep union and peace with God. When Fr Joseph Yao was sick with cancer, he mentioned to me several times that he is “ready” to meet God. It is very clear to me that he said it with much consolation in his heart. He in fact also added that he is looking forward to meet God and spend eternity with Him. My brothers and sisters in Christ, the reality of death should bring us peace and not fear into our hearts.
Recently, I was talking with one of my nieces. I was very happy to find that when I asked her whether she wanted to go for a silent retreat-pilgrimage, she jumped at it and immediately happily signed up for it. She is a young professional who has been teaching catechism for the past eight years in her parish church. Also, she would often spend most of her Sundays reaching out to the poor and needy, and once a year go for a mission trip overseas to serve the poor. As a person she too is a very caring and loving person. Another niece of mine on the other had shared with great joy and enthusiasm of how she has been trying to get her non-Christian husband to pray every night and reflect on some Bible passages. Even the little progress she makes over the years gave her much consolation and happiness.
My sister and brothers in Christ, I am sure many of you too have such wonderful nieces, family and friends who are so excited about the faith. These are good examples of how we can live our faith vigilantly. I can off hand name many such people in our parish who live very good and exemplary Catholic faith in our parish family . . . Many willingly serve our parish needs in so many ways and even till the early hours of the morning during certain special events . . . the sacrifices they make become opportunities of joy, fulfilment and happiness in their lives. . . If you were to ask these people to imagine coming just to Mass on Sundays (stand beside 1,000 people whom you do not know and then go home and then live their lives privately without being involved with the parish Church, they would tell you immediately, that their lives would be boring and their faith would be impoverished . . .
To conclude, let me sum up by saying that in today’s Gospel Jesus is challenging us to live a vigilant faith that is prepared for death and the Second Coming of Christ that can spring on us unexpectedly. To live such a vigilant faith is to be found to be faithful when the Master to returns. Thus, to live a vigilant faith does not have to be a faith that is constantly trying to avoid committing sins.
On the contrary, living a vigilant faith is experiencing the divine gift of God liberating us from the different attachments of life where He becomes the centre and core of our daily living. Living a vigilant faith is living our daily life to its fullest potential and greatest joy and happiness in God’s presence and providence.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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