Last week at the masses I wasn’t presiding I popped in after communion to introduce myself, and for the two masses that Abbot Hoover had he was delighted to add the additional remark that I was a graduate of Benedictine High School and that the Benedictines were slowly taking over the parish. Obviously I’m just a diocesan priest and didn’t join the monastery as a monk, but I must admit that the spirituality of the Benedictines had great influence on me and has become part of my spiritual life. And my favorite line from the Rule of St. Benedict is one that I think goes well with our readings today: contemplate daily the reality of your death. At first sight it sounds like a rather morbid practice and not at all appealing. Why would anyone want to think about their death? But take that line and place it in the context of Christianity and our faith in Christ Jesus… and it suddenly becomes a beautiful practice that will remove all fear and anxiety from your life and set your heart free.
Here’s why. The readings today overall are about having no fear. The first reading was the experience of the prophet Jeremiah who was beginning to hear the people and even his friends whisper that they were plotting against him, to denounce him and take vengeance on him. (Prophets were never very popular people.) But Jeremiah takes courage knowing that the Lord is with him. He has nothing to fear even though terror is all around him, because the Lord rescues the life of the poor from the power of the wicked. And the second reading gets right to the heart of the big picture by reminding us that through one man sin entered the world, and through sin death entered the world. But now through one man, Jesus Christ, sin and death were conquered. In other words… what is there to fear when God is with us? When death can no longer destroy us, when sin can no longer cling to us, when our enemy can have no serious, lasting, permanent victory… what is there to fear?
So why does contemplating our death daily remove the anxiety and fear from life? Because while we might not know what evils and fears this day is going to bring… we know that at the end we die. And as Christ told us in the Gospel everything will be revealed as the Father knows every suffering you have faced. He knows every hair on your head, treasures you more than many sparrows and even they are kept in His care. So long as you acknowledge Christ and have not started to follow the one who can destroy your soul, death is a joyous moment. We still mourn the separation from the loved ones who live on in this world and long for the day of the coming of the Kingdom… but there is nothing to fear.
So I want you to hear the Gospel again: “Fear no one… everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly father.” If you are willing to trust me just a little bit, I challenge you today to contemplate the reality of your death. Think of the moment when all this comes to an end. Give yourself a moment to catch your breath and get past the shock and even the fear of thinking about death. Then find yourself standing before Christ in all his mercy and love for you. Think about how unimportant the anxieties and fears of your daily life become in that moment. Try that today, and I bet you will know in a deeper way what Jesus means when he tells us not to be not afraid.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.