The Last Thing

During these final days of the Church year, our readings focus on the four last things: heaven, hell, death and judgement. We are reminded that “we know not the day nor the hour” and we can certainly see the truth of this in our everyday lives. The Church’s intention in presenting these readings for our consideration is not to frighten us, but to help us prepare for our journey home to the Father.

I would like to address a topic that is somewhat taboo in our society: death. There, I said it! We all know that we are going to die one day. As scripture tells us, we don’t know when or how, but we know for certain that one day we will be called home. Sometimes we live so much in our earthly lives, that we forget that our earthly life is just a “dress rehearsal” for our eternal life with God. The Church urges us to focus our earthly life on Christ and on the life that is to come. The fact is that we are born into this world, and at some unknown date, we will pass through the door to the world to come. We believe that if we have lived with Christ, we will also die with Christ.

I recently read a book by a wonderful British doctor who dedicated her life to palliative care. This brave physician dedicated her practice to helping her patients at the end of life. She makes a strong point throughout the book that our society needs to do a better job of accepting death, and in fact, naming it for what it is. So many times we say things like, “Bob passed away” or “Mary has gone to live with the angels.” In using such terms to describe physical death of the body, we fail to call death what it is: the end of life on this earth. Death is another stage in our being. As Christians, we believe that God has a place prepared for us, and He waits to meet us there at the end of this earthly pilgrimage.

I recently had the opportunity to walk with a dear friend through the last days of his life. Jeff was a man who lived life to the fullest. He was a hard-driven worker, a dynamic social butterfly and the guy who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. Jeff lived life with a gusto that was inspiring, and at times, a little scary. After experiencing a series of health setbacks, he was given the grim diagnosis of cancer, with little hope for survival. The first round of chemotherapy proved to be too much for his body to handle. The cancer had taken hold, and Jeff’s days were numbered. He lived out his last days in a hospice center surrounded by loving friends, family and dedicated staff. I was blessed to pray at his bedside before he died. Jeff clung to his rosary beads, during those last days. He asked for the Last Rites and received the Eucharist every day, until he could no longer consume the Body of Christ.

In the rite of Christian burial, the priest or deacon sprinkles holy water on the coffin or urn as the service begins. This beautiful gesture reminds us of the day of our baptism, when we died to sin and rose to new life in Christ. Each time I am privileged to preside over a baptism, I am reminded that this gesture will be repeated on the day that this brother or sister in Christ dies. I always begin the baptism rite outside the door of the church as a symbol of the new life in Christ that this child receives, as he or she walks through this door of baptism. The reality is that we are held in the loving arms of the Lord from the moment of our birth, until our last breath, when the Lord comes to take us home again.

The day we are born into this world we begin a journey home to the Father. For some, this journey will be a length of days, and for some, it is only moments. The end goal of our earthly life is to return to the Father’s house. We might imagine a giant banquet table of heavenly hosts, with a special place card waiting just for us! As we conclude this Church year, let us focus on the life to come in heaven and endeavor to prepare ourselves well for our journey home.

In Christ who is our Peace,

Deacon Tim


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