Every night at 7:00, ******* prayed the Rosary along with a CD. And every Hail Mary ended, “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” 50 times they said this every night; year after year, they prayed this prayer. Throughout *******’s life he prayed the Hail Mary hundreds of thousands of times, each time saying, “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Last Thursday, at 1:30 in the morning, as *******’s breath changed from the steady, labored breath we had heard all day, I prayed over and over the Hail Mary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Because it was the hour of death. All of those prayers over a lifetime were for that hour.
That hour is going to come for all of us. That hour is a certain fact that no one can take from us. We do not know when it will come, but it will come. Rich or poor, everyone experiences that hour. How we react to this fact is our decision. Sometimes we notice the shadow that that hour casts over every other hour of life. This is the realistic view. Every accomplishment, every little success, every moment of pleasure exists in the same reality as death. Usually we try as much as possible to forget this fact, seeking happiness in ignorance or at least forgetfulness. But we are going to die, and everyone we love is going to die. This is not a religious doctrine but a fact, indisputably true. And when death comes for someone we love, we are forced to deal with this fact.
It is in the context of this reality that Jesus speaks: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Death is part of reality, but so is Jesus. Jesus is a man who came to earth and said that death is not the end. He said that he came from a reality beyond our senses and that in that reality there is a place for us. Jesus, who claims to come from the reality beyond death, tells us that he has prepared a place for us to live after death. The fact of death is indisputable, but what exactly death is, we do not know. Death is an experience that none of us have had, so how could we think that we know what the experience really is? We know what we can see: the functions of the body stop, but this is merely what we who live can see.
It is like birth. Before they are born, what does a child know about life outside the womb? Nothing really. And if we imagine twins, and one is born, what does the other know? Only that their twin is gone but nothing about where they went. Yet all of us, having been born, know that, though we were alive for those first nine months, our lives as we now know them did not really get started until we were born. So we count our lives from the day of our birth and can even forget the life that came before.
This seems to be what Jesus is saying, that death is like birth, that our lives now are like the life of a child in the womb. And just as a child is not meant to live forever in the womb, so we are not meant to live forever here. Ten thousand years from now, will we look back on this life as a mere prelude of what is to come? If we consider life and death in this way, then death is not the end but the beginning. ******* has stepped through that door and right now he knows what is on the other side.
If we view reality in this way, then this life is a time of preparation. Our purpose in this life is to get ready for the next life. What matters about this life is not what we have accumulated nor what we have accomplished, as the world sees accomplishment. Whether we have become famous or rich or successful in this world that is passing away is sort of beside the point, because none of that is going to make us ready for the world to come. What matters is that we become humble and generous and loving.
When I think of *******, that is what I remember. He is for me the example of generosity. I do not think I ever heard him say “no” when someone needed him. Whether he was looking after the widow of a friend, running into a burning building without oxygen to save someone, or providing for his own family, he did not think of the inconvenience to himself or what he would get out of it. He taught me what I know about forgetting myself and serving others. I do not mean to say that he was perfect, but he was a man who, by the end of his life, never settled for just accepting his imperfections but was always trying to be better.
And how did he work at being better? By hours spent in that Adoration chapel, by a certain prayer he said every day for sobriety, by attending Mass every week and many weekdays, by confessing his sins, and by the Rosary he prayed every evening. He followed the instruction of Jesus, who says in this Gospel concerning how to get to those dwelling places in his Father’s house, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus has prepared a place for us on the other side of death, and Jesus is the way to prepare ourselves for that place. Jesus granted us entrance to that place by his own death and Resurrection. Considering all that Jesus has done for us, would he refuse someone who placed their faith in him? Absolutely not. He created each of us so that we would choose eternal happiness with him. ******* can see something now which we are still blind to, ******* has begun an adventure which is still in our future, but really, he began that adventure in this life when he decided to follow Jesus.