All the readings in today’s Mass speak to us about one of the eternal truths, namely eternal life. An old and infirm man was living in a shack on the edge of the forest. One winter’s morning he got up to find only one meal of porridge left, the fireplace empty, and snow on the ground. He felt like asking God to take him to heaven there and then. However, he managed to summon up a little courage, and went into the forest to collect firewood. He collected a large bundle of sticks. Then he put a rope around it and tied a knot. However, when he tried to lift the bundle onto his shoulders, he found that he couldn’t even move it. With that a wave of depression swept over him. He looked up to heaven and said, ‘Lord, take me know. I’ve nothing left to live for.’ In an instant a strapping young man appeared at his side. The stranger introduced himself as the Angel of Death and said, ‘you sent for me. Well, now that I’m here, what can I do for you?’ As quick as a flash the old man replied, ‘Hey son, would you ever give me a hand with this bundle of sticks.’ As we get on in life we become increasingly aware of how fleeting life is, and how precarious is our hold over it. In spite of ourselves we become familiar with the thought of death. But this need not be a negative or morbid thought. In fact, it can be something very positive. Thinking about death can result in a true love for life. When we are familiar with death, we accept each day a gift. A person said to me this week, when you get up in the morning, get down on your knees, and thank the Lord that you are on your feet. And when we accept life bit by bit like this, it becomes very precious. By facing our mortality we are put in touch with that other life, eternal life, the seeds of which have been planted in our hearts and souls. Death is the passage to new life, which as Jesus says in the gospel completely, transcends the life we know now. This sounds beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Our passage from this world is preceded by many other smaller passages. When we were born we made the passage from life in the womb to life outside the womb. When we went to school we made the passage from life in the family to life in the larger community. Those who have married have the made the passage from a life with many options to a life committed to one person. Those who have retired have made a passage from a life of clearly defined work to a life without such work. Each of these passages results in a kind of death but also leads to new life. When we live these passages well, we are preparing ourselves for our final passage. What helps us to confront the reality of death is our Christian faith. Faith enables us to face death with courage and hope, because we know that we can overcome it in Christ. I heard a very interesting interview on a radio show in Ireland some time ago. It was an undertaker who emigrated 34 years ago from Mayo to Chicago and he set up a large undertaking business in Chicago. He said he embalmed and buried many different people from Cardinals, Mafia bosses, politicians, prostitutes, etc and he said that on his way to the cemetery alone in the hearse he had a lot of time to reflect on life and it reminded him that we all have to die. God has assured us of this in Christ. Our hope of resurrection lies in the power and love of God. Death is not the enemy who puts an end to everything but the friend who take us by the hand and leads us into the kingdom of eternal love.
Letter found on the body of an american soldier in Vietnam
Look God: I have never spoken to You, but now I want to say, “How do You do”. You see God, they told me You did not exist; and, like a fool, I believed all of this. Last night from a shell hole I saw Your sky; I figured right then they had told me a lie. Had I taken the time to see the things You made, I would know they weren’t calling a spade a spade. I wonder, God if You would shake my hand; Somehow, I feel that You will understand. Strange I had to come to this hellish place before I had time to see Your face. Well, I guess there isn’t much more to say, but I am sure glad, God I met You today. I guess the zero hour will soon be here, But I am not afraid since I know You are near. The signal – well, God, I will have to go; I love you lots, this I want you to know. Looks like this will be a horrible fight; Who knows, I may come to your house tonight. Though I wasn’t friendly with you before, I wonder, God, if you would wait at the door. Look, I am crying, me shedding tears! I wish I had known you these many years. Well, I will have to go now, God. Goodbye Strange, since I met you, I am not afraid to die.