Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What Would You Do If You Knew You Were Going to Die Within the Next 24 Hours?

(All Saints Day 2011: This homily was given on November 1, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12a.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: All Saints 2011]

The doctor looks at you and says, “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, but you’ve contracted a serious and incurable blood disease, and by this time tomorrow, you’ll be dead.”

What a nice way to begin your homily, Fr. Ray!  What a lovely thought!

Well, it may not be the most pleasant and uplifting thought we can possibly have, but it’s certainly a useful one, because it can help us to discern how close (or how far away) we are from true holiness in our lives.

Try, as best you can, to imagine yourself in that situation I just described.  The doctor, in effect, has just told you that you have about 24 hours to live. 

What would you do during that time?  What would you do during your last 24 hours on planet earth?  Aside from saying goodbye to those you love the most, what would you do to get ready to meet Jesus Christ face to face?

Is there anything that you know you’d need to do?

For example, would you feel the need to make an appointment with a local priest (me or somebody else), because you know you need to confess some serious sins that you’ve never confessed before?

Would you need to make peace with some people in your life?  Would you need to say you’re sorry to certain members of your family, or to some estranged friends or co-workers?

Would you immediately stop doing some of the things you’ve been doing habitually—on the internet or at the casino, perhaps?

Would you feel the need to “clean up your act” as soon as possible?

Would you feel a lot of regret for some good things that you didn’t do that you know you should have done?

Would you say, “I wish I had been a lot more ___________ (fill in the blank: patient, forgiving, kind, understanding, committed to Christ and his truth, etc.)”?

Would you say, “I wish I had prayed more often; I wish I had gone to Mass more often; I wish I had taken the Beatitudes and the other teachings of Jesus Christ more seriously in my life”?

If you know yourself well—and if you’re willing to be brutally honest with yourself (and those are two very big “ifs”)—then reflecting hypothetically on your last 24 hours of life can be a profitable activity to engage in at least every once in awhile.  It can certainly provide a powerful incentive to examine your conscience well.

In this regard, many years ago I read a little story about one of the great saints of the Church.  One day this man was out plowing his field.  A friend stopped him and asked him the question, “What would you do if you found out that this was to be the last day of your life?”

The saint answered, “I would keep on plowing my field.”

He had no need to run to church to confess any mortal sins; he had no need to go and ask others to forgive him; he didn’t have any major regrets about good things he should have done but hadn’t.  He didn’t have the need to make any major changes before he left this life.

So he figured he’d just continue doing what God wanted him to do that day, which was to plow his field.

Today’s feast reminds us of what our ultimate end will be if we’re as ready as that saint was:  we shall “see God as he is” (as St. John tells us in our second reading); we shall be part of that vast crowd that St. John couldn’t count in today’s first reading—that happy group of people who had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb through baptism, and by living lives of faith and charity.

There’s an old saying: Live each day as if it were your last, and one day you’ll be right.  But not only will you be right; if you live each day in this way then in all likelihood you’ll also be ready: ready for death, ready for judgment, ready to meet Jesus Christ face to face.

Which means that today’s feast day—the Solemnity of All Saints—will someday be your feast day!