A wise man was once asked, “If your house caught fire, and you could grab only on book to take with you when you left, what book would you grab?” He quickly answered, “The book nearest the door.”
That’s a lead into today’s readings. Today’s readings focus our attention on the end of time, the last day, the Day of the Lord. When will we reach the end of time, the Second Coming of Christ? Nobody knows. Our readings today urge us to be ready. As the Boy Scout motto tells us, “Be prepared.”
Chances are the final end of the world won’t come in our lifetime. But all of us are going to die. We may be in good health and are not thinking about our death. But we know it can come suddenly. We may have a fatal heart attack, be hit by a drunk driver, or be a victim of a terrorist. We never know. No doubt, we will all have our personal “end of time.” So how do we prepare?
I suggest that we imagine for a moment that we are given only 24 hours left to live, 24 hours before we meet our Maker. How should we spend those last 24 hours? I don’t think we would bother making our bed. We wouldn’t bother straightening out our closet or rearranging our shoetree. And we wouldn’t buy any green bananas. If we have only 24 hours left to live, we would want to do the things that are most important. And what would those most important things be?
I suggest, in preparation, we first open up an imaginary graveyard and start burying stuff. If we have any anger, envy, greed, jealousy, unforgiveness, resentment, regrets, or disappointments, we need to bury them. We want to fly up to heaven and don’t want to be weighed down by any useless baggage. Once we bury all that stuff we move into positive action.
Top of the list: Forgiveness. (If you read my last book, this will all sound familiar.) When we pray the Our Father, we say those daring words, “Father…forgive us our trespasses -- as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We don’t want to appear before our God asking for forgiveness while having any unforgiveness in our hearts.
So we use these 24 hours to forgive everyone everything, to be reconciled with everyone. If we need to reach out and heal a relationship, now is the time to say, “I forgive you.” If we are at fault and need to apologize, now is the time to say, “I am sorry.” Call, email, fax, text or use carrier pigeons, but be reconciled.
Once reconciled with one another, then we get on our knees, express our sorrow to God for any sins and ask his forgiveness. “Lord, have mercy,” is the urgent prayer for our last 24 hours.
Secondly: Gratitude. When I was 16 years old, my father died. To this day I regret not having thanked him enough. I was a teenager and all wrapped up in myself. I wasn’t thinking about how much my father did for me. Oh, I’m sure I thanked him each year on Father’s day. But now that doesn’t seem enough.
If we only have 24 hours to live, we need thank as many people as we can that have helped us in our lives. Our parents, brothers and sisters, teachers, neighbors, friends, the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. We need to let them know how much we appreciate them.
Then, after thanking others, we get back on our knees and say “Thank You” to God. We have been blessed in so many ways, blessed with the gift of life, faith, family, friends, food, forgiveness, with the Holy Eucharist… We have been blessed with an education, with talents and opportunities… The list goes on and on. We want to meet our Maker with a heart full of gratitude.
Thirdly: Love. Jesus told us that the first two commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. It will be a happy challenge to see how many people we can tell, “I love you,” in 24 hours. But what nice words to be left ringing in their ears after we leave this world.
If we die with love in our hearts for everyone, we will hear Jesus say to us, “Whatsoever you did to the least of my people, you did to me. If you loved them, you loved me. Come, enter the kingdom prepared for people like you.” (Cf. Matthew 25:31- 46)
Forgiveness, gratitude and love. That should make our last 24 hours a very busy and full day.
Now I need to practice what I preach. I hope I live to be a hundred. But, just in case I die sooner, I thought I’d better say some things now.
I have been assisting in this parish for over twenty years. If I have hurt anyone during that time, or let anybody down, or did not minister correctly, “I am sorry.” I don’t recall being hurt by any of you but, just in case, I say, “I forgive you.”
Secondly, you have all been a great inspiration to me, a great support, and we have shared lots of good times together. So, I say now, “Thank you.” I appreciate you very much.
Thirdly, it has been a great delight for me to be among you these many years. Love is a response to goodness, truth and beauty. So happily I say, “I love you.” You have been and still are a real blessing in my life.
It has been my calling as a priest to help you be reconciled with one another and with God, to lead you in giving thanks to one another and to God, and to join you in expressing love for one another and for God.
Let us continue forgiving, thanking and expressing love for the next 24 hours, -- and for the rest of our lives.