A man placed some flowers on the grave of his dearly departed mother and started back toward his car when his attention was diverted to another man kneeling at a grave. The man seemed to be praying with profound intensity and kept repeating, "Why did you have to die? Why did you have to die? Why did you have to die? Why did you have to die?" The first man approached him and said, "Sir, I don't wish to interfere with your private grief, but this demonstration of pain is more than I've ever seen before. For whom do you mourn so deeply? A child? A parent?" The mourner took a moment to collect himself, then replied, "My wife's first husband."
One of the greatest fears that we have is the fear of death. Nobody wants to talk about death. Nobody wants to speak about the end of our lives. It is morbid and depressing. Why should we talk about death, when we can talk about life? But, death is always a part of our lives and despite its darkness and grimness, we will not be able and we can never escape from it.
In today's Gospel, Jesus is talking about His second coming when the sun will grow dark and the moon will no longer shine. He is teaching us to be ready for his coming, to know when our time is near. He is giving us consolation that things will pass away except his words of life. His words are words with meaning. His words are words of life.
It is helpful to remember that the meaning of life is a life of meaning. In the absence of a comprehensible divine ethic, some people we know had created out of emptiness their own meaning of life. When our lives do not make sense, when we find it boring and insensible, there is a tendency to slip into cynicism, skepticism and nothingness.
Countless people have been tricked into believing what life temporarily offers. Hedonists and lovers of pleasure believe that there is nothing after this life, that they only need to enjoy the present. And, there are many people we know who are like this. "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die," that is their creed. Hakuna matata. Let tomorrow take care of itself. They have no concerns other than their selfish interests. They have no desires other than their own satisfaction.
In the same way, one of the meanings of death is the death of meaning. No matter how important we think we are, no matter how consequential we think we are, we can never deny that nobody can be indispensable. We become insignificant at death and our cemeteries and graveyards are full of them. Death is the great equalizer.
The search for life's meaning can never be found in death. It can only be found in living. Death finds its meaning in life. It finds its significance in people around us. Death finds its motivation in our own families. What is the use of living without a little dying in our hearts? Dying to our own selfishness. Dying to our own indifference. Dying in our own sinfulness.
And, what is the use of dying if we do not live in other people's hearts? Monuments and mausoleums can never equal the space we created in other people's lives when we are gone. The Latin poet Cato wrote, "After I am dead, I'd rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one."
Some of us are afraid of death not because we are afraid to die, but because we have never lived. Some of us are afraid of death not because it is an unknown, but because the Real Unknown is expecting us to know him better. Some of us are afraid of death not because it is an enemy to conquer, but because it is a friend to consider.
Death stares at us in every corner of our lives. It is there from the time we wake up each morning to the moment we close our eyes at night. Death is a major element in our Christian faith and in our sacraments. If there is no death in those grains of wheat, there is no bread to offer. If there is no death in those clusters of grapes, there is no wine to bring. Without death, there is no resurrection. Without the death of Jesus, there is no glorification.
Jesus is reminding us once again to be on the lookout when it is near the end. In the movies, you know it is near the end when the boy finally meets girl, when the good guy kills all the bad guys and Mr. Cowboy rides towards the sunset and those two words come scrolling on the screen: "The End." After the words: "The End" are flashed on the screen, the movie does not end yet, for the credits will still be rolling. The credits are the names of people responsible for making that film. Those who helped in producing it. Those who played which part.
When our end comes, we believe it is not yet the real end. For the credits will still be rolling in the screen of our lives. And the credit belongs to the One who unrolled the stone after Jesus died. The credit belongs to the One who gave us life after we had been consigned to darkness. The credit belongs to the One who knows the true and exact meaning of
19 November 2006