18 November 2012 – 12 noon
(Readings: Daniel 12:1-3; Ps 16; Heb 10:11-14, 18; Mk 13:24-32)
At that time … Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Each year, the liturgy for the final weeks of the liturgical year turns our minds to the “last things” – death, judgement, the resurrection of the body, heaven, hell, and purguatory. The first two days of November with firstly, the celebration of all saints in heaven, and then the commemoration of the faithful departed, set the scene for this month when we are urged to pray especially for the holy souls in purgatory.
As we contemplate the Church triumphant in heaven, and the Church suffering in purgatory, we are invited to consider ourselves, the Church militant on earth. The time will come for all of us to face death, and to stand before the Lord for judgement. Nothing impure, evil or sinful can co-exist in the presence of the Lord. So, to the extent that these things are present in our lives, we need to repent, and be purified. Repentance can’t take place after death, but the purification either is accomplished while we are alive, or in the purification following death, which we call purgatory. The verse of the Gospel Acclamation for today’s Mass urges us: Be alert at all times, praying that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man. We are to be vigilant: to watch for Christ’s coming, whether that be to us personally in the moment of death, or at the end of the world when he comes in glory.
It’s good to ask ourselves often: if my moment of death were to happen right now, what would be my reaction to seeing the Lord? Would I cry with joy? Would I be eager to go with him? Or, would I hold my head in shame? Would I panic and say, “not yet, Lord?”
Yesterday I received the newsletter of the Carmelites Monks in Wyoming. This is a new foundation of monastic life. Prompted by the approach of November when we pray for the deceased, the prior of the monastery writes in the newsletter about how he has learnt over his years of priesthood how “souls are given extraordinary graces in those last days before they pass from this life.” He says that “[o]ftentimes in the final moments of people’s lives, we see the gems of charity hidden inside of them and they can teach us how to live more virtuously.”
He shares one story from a couple of years ago when the monastic community was in the middle of receiving county approval before purchasing the land where they want to build their monastery. The community had a difficult time getting the necessary permissions and had to go through public hearings. So many of the local people knew so little about monasticism and the Catholic Church that there were various groups of people who spoke up against the monks.
During the course of one of these public hearings, after many different members of the public had spoken – some for and more against the county granting permission, a soft-spoken woman in the back took the floor. This woman’s name was Sue. With great strength she said, “I would just like to say that I am thankful to see this finally going forward. I think these poor monks have been put through more questions than anybody who has come into Cody trying to start any fly-by-night operation. I am pleased to see that sanity is finally prevailing and our prayers have finally been answered. Thank you.”
She continued: “I am able to donate a very small amount each year to the building fund and every time the monks graciously write me back in their own handwriting to thank me. I have given many gifts to my nephews and grandchildren and I never get anything back. I just want to comment how touched I am by the monks’ thoughtfulness.”
After Sue’s testimony, the monks received full approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission. During the intermission of the hearing, Sue met the Prior of the monastery and gave him a warm embrace. Fr Daniel Mary said he sensed her tremendous love for God and for his monks. After greeting him, Sue spoke with another of the monks and shared with him that she had actually not planned to attend that day, but was at the county courthouse on other business and noticed a sign announcing the hearing. Moved by grace, she knew that she needed to defend the monks. Moved by her charity, the other monk she spoke to promised her that he would pray for her for the rest of his life.
Unknown to Sue and the monks, that would be Sue’s final act of charity, since moments after leaving the courthouse she was in a terrible accident that resulted in her death. (I have largely used Fr Daniel Mary’s own words as he recounts the story, as found in the newsletter of the Carmelite Monks of Wyoming, Autumn 2012. See: http://www.carmelitemonks.org/Newsletters.php)
Jesus will return at an unknown hour. He himself said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the Angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” We don’t know when the hour of our death will come, and the only way we can be prepared for it is to live in readiness every moment.
That day when that woman responded to God’s grace, when she was moved to speak up in defense of the monks, she performed a work of charity that will be remembered forever by those who were witnesses to it. Her action drew out of the monks profound gratitude, the promise of prayer, and an awareness of God’s action in her life and theirs.
At the end of our first reading today we heard: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” As we hear those words, let us firstly give thanks for the people in our lives who lead us to righteousness; those who make us aware of God’s presence, those who help us to be the people God created us to be. And let’s also ask ourselves: does my life lead others to righteousness? Are my actions edifying to others? Or, do I lead others away from God; do I lead others into sin; does my life in any way give scandal to those who see me?
May the graces of this Mass that we offer help us to always consider where we are going; to consider our eternal judgement. May we help each other to be alert and vigilant, growing in virtue, and ready to stand before the Son of Man when he comes.