During the month of November, the Church asks us to pray for the Holy Souls in purgatory. Of course, this attention to the souls in purgatory causes us to think more often of death – and not just death in general, but our own death! Yes, during the month of November (and for the rest of the year as well) we should meditate on our own death. “But isn’t that”, someone might ask, “morose? Isn’t it better to think about happier, more pleasant things?” According to today’s gospel, the answer to that question is NO.
Therefore, stay awake, our Lord says, for you know neither the day nor the hour. The ‘hour’ which our Lord mentions is the hour of the bridegroom’s return, which is to say, it is the hour of Christ’s return when he will judge the living and the dead. Just as the virgins in the parable should have been prepared for the bridegroom’s return, so we must be prepared for Christ’s return. But how do we prepare for Christ’s return? The answer is simple: by meditating on our death.
In an absolute sense, Christ will return at the end of time; but in a relative sense, Christ returns at the hour of our death. This is not to say that the two events are identical, but they are nonetheless connected. How so? When Christ returns, he will judge all. For those who stand alert with lamps trimmed, that is, for those who die in his grace, he welcomes them into his embrace. But to those who have been foolish and are not ready for his return, that is, for those who die in a state of mortal sin or separation from God, he will say Amen, I say to you, I do not know you. This moment of judgment, which is often called the particular judgment, occurs immediately when we die. In that moment, Christ ‘returns’ to judge us individually. This same judgment is then ratified at the end of time at the final judgment, when Christ returns absolutely to judge all. The question, then, is this: how do we die well?
Meditating on death prepares us for this judgment. As Thomas a Kempis explains, “every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience”. Meditating on death, therefore, sharpens the focus of our life and gives us eyes to see what truly matters. When we meditate on death, we realize that many of are anxieties are futile, many of our actions are vain, and many of our inner thoughts are hollow.
Of course, many associate death with darkness, nothingness and pain. But for those of us in Christ, death is not an enemy. Indeed, for those of us in Christ, death is the hour of Life. It is the hour of Life, for only when we die do we come to see God face to face. Let us therefore stand alert and keep our lamps trimmed, for we do not know the hour of our death – we do not know the hour of our Lord’s return.
Ian Mahood – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
Fot. Vidar Nordli Mathisen/Unsplash.com