November 19, 2021


Prepare to die

We are sorry if that headline startled you, but it says exactly what the Church tells us, especially during the month of November, what we must do. It wants us to prepare for our death, whenever it might be. Death could come at any time, as the news media report daily shootings and other violence.

That realization has been even more true this past year because of COVID-19. The growing death toll of the pandemic is truly tragic.

The Church has traditionally urged people to meditate on the four last things during November: death, judgment, heaven and hell.

November is a good month during which we can consider death. Nature cooperates. Leaves are falling off trees, leaving them bare. We can’t grow flowers outdoors until spring. Colder temperatures have arrived, and central Indiana recently saw its first snowfall.

As we grow older, we realize that death is a natural part of life. Everyone dies. There are no exceptions. But we should not be afraid of death if we are prepared for it, because then our death will mean everlasting life in heaven where we will live forever in communion with God and all the saints who have gone before us, including members of our families and friends. It will be a joyous time—as long as we prepare for our death.

How should we prepare for our death? Jesus was quite explicit about that. He told the rich young man, who asked what he must do to gain eternal life, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17).

On another occasion, he said that the two greatest commandments are, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30).

However, Jesus was even more explicit in telling us how we must love our neighbor as ourselves. He explained exactly how he will judge us during the last judgment. Check out Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25, verses 31-46. That’s where he tells us that those who will inherit the kingdom prepared for them are those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the ill and visit those in prison. They will enter heaven because “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

On the other hand, he said, those who do not do those things will go off to eternal punishment for not loving their neighbors.

The Church has turned this Gospel passage into its corporal works of mercy, with a couple additions: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead and give alms to the poor. It has also taught the spiritual works of mercy, actions that will help our neighbors in their spiritual needs: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, comfort the sorrowful, forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently and pray for the living and the dead.

Perhaps not all of us can perform all of the duties Jesus has commanded, because of infirmities or other problems, but most of us can do some of them.

The Church itself has always been involved in all of those ministries and is usually looking for volunteers. Food kitchens and parishes feed the homeless and those down on their luck. Catholic agencies provide shelter for the homeless and provide clothing for those who need it. We welcome immigrants and refugees and help them get acclimated to American society. Our hospitals help heal the sick and we have active programs of visiting prisons. parishes bury the dead and we are always urged to give alms to the poor.

You can see that preparing to die can often mean keeping active while serving our neighbors. It doesn’t mean that we should just sit around and pray, although that should be part of our lives at all stages.

So, prepare to die because death is inevitable. We just don’t know when it will happen.

—John F. Fink

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