Recently someone asked me what the hardest part about being a priest is. While it would be hard to pinpoint the hardest part, one of the more challenging parts of my life as a priest is consistently dealing with death. For most people my age who are in good health, death isn’t really something that is in the forefront of their minds. Yet almost every week, death is brought before my eyes as I walk with someone towards death or celebrate the funeral of someone who recently passed away. To be honest with you, on one level seeing death, which comes in so many different ways, often leaves me with an uneasy feeling, and on another level, it gives me a reverence for the preciousness of human life and leaves me with a sense of gratitude for the life I have.
One of the hardest parts about being around death on a weekly basis is it makes you stop and think about your own death, a thought that I dare say makes most of us are uncomfortable. Yet having death always before me, while not always pleasant, is a hidden blessing, because death is a vehicle through which we can more fully examine and embrace the life we are living. When we keep the thought of death close to our hearts, we gain a sense of urgency about making sure we have our priorities straight in life.
When the idea that I should become a priest first came to me and I was trying to run away from it, I often found myself awake at night thinking about the end of my life. It was easy for me to make many different excuses and dream up many different fun paths for my life when I thought about myself as a young man right out of college, but I knew my youth would eventually fade and I found myself wondering what I would be left with. As I thought about the end of my life, everything came into perspective and I was able to make a life changing decision guided by the most important things in my life.
Jesus’ parable of the servants awaiting their Master’s return, in today’s Gospel, reminds each of us that all of us have an appointment with death. While we do not know the date, the time or the place of our death, it is an appointment that we cannot cancel. So I think, today’s Gospel challenges us to ask the important, life changing question, am I ready for death.
If your time on this earth expired right now, would you be ready? How do we even go about preparing to die? I think the best way to prepare for death is to live each day as if it was our last, because one of these days it will be our last. Preparing for death means, making sure that we are reconciled with God, that we are living in the state of grace, but it also means making sure we are reconciled with one another. Perhaps if we are trying to determine if we are ready for death we need to ask ourselves a few simple questions: 1. If I passed away right now, and someone told my whole life story are their certain things I wish they would leave out? 2. If I passed away right now and someone was going through my belongings are there things I hope they wouldn’t find? 3. If I passed away right now, are their any relationships in my life that I wish I would have straightened out? If we answered yes to any of these questions, then perhaps we need to go home and do some preparation work and perhaps it may be helpful to ask our all loving God in prayer to help us prepare.
There is a little known, pious custom in our Catholic Faith of praying for a happy death. A happy death is a little bit of a misnomer, because a happy death does not necessarily mean a death without pain or suffering, although that may be nice, but rather praying for a happy death means asking our Heavenly Father to give us a death for which we are ready to die, a death in which we are in the state of grace, a death at a time when we have our affairs in order with others, a death at a time when we have been reconciled to God and our neighbor. The good news is that, we taken up this custom without realizing it, because every time we pray in the Hail Mary we ask her to, “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” We ask God for all kinds of uncertain things, so I don’t know about you, but since I know death is certain, I think praying for the grace to be ready for that death is one of the greatest things I can pray for.
While death is never pleasant to think about, it will come for each of us whether we want it to or not. The good news is that God has promised us an eternity of happiness if we strive to follow after Him. So let’s not waste our chance, let’s be prepared for that unexpected moment when the Master returns to call us home to Himself. Will you be prepared for that unexpected moment when He calls you?