Bishop Hying

Faith teaches us to surrender gracefully to the seasons of life knowing God is eternal

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on November 5, 2017


       If you knew the date of your death, how would you live differently? 

       Such a question may seem strange, but it is one I think about once in a while.  Perhaps, I would live fearlessly, knowing how much time I have left would enable me to take risks and face danger more boldly. If I was facing a premature death, would that knowledge painfully shadow my thoughts and feelings every day?  If I was blessed with a long life, maybe I would be tempted to put off conversion, foolishly thinking I have so much time to pull things together. 

       Obviously, all of these questions and thoughts are moot, since we know neither the day nor the hour of our passing from this life.

       Every November, we pray for and remember our beloved dead, beginning with the celebrations of All Saints and All Souls Days. We gratefully recall the blessings and legacy of the inspiring people who loved, mentored and formed us and have now passed on. We pray for the souls in purgatory, those being purified of all sin and earthly attachment, so that they can enter the wedding feast of heaven. 

       In many cultures of Africa, Asia and Latin America, people profoundly feel the presence and influence of the dead in their midst. Our Catholic belief in the Comm of Saints connects us through the Church to all of those who have gone before us in a deep spiritual bond. They are praying for us in love!

       The mystery and fear of death, which lingers somewhere in every mind and heart, calls us to a joyful hope in the resurrection of Christ as the antidote to the curse of our mortality. Death challenges us. Do we really believe in the mercy and power of Christ? Are we convicted of the reality of heaven and perpetual with God? Can we truly let go and surrender all into the loving arms of the Lord? 

       Often times when I have ministered to a dying person, saying all of the right things, I wonder how I will be when it is me lying in the bed, facing the enveloping mystery of death.

       In the Gospels, Jesus calls us to be vigilant servants with loins girt and lamps lit, like those awaiting their master’s return from a wedding. This vigilance demands awareness, mindfulness, prayerfulness, a spirit of contemplation, a heart set on the Lord, a life of tested virtue. In moments of crisis or fear, it is easy to call on the Lord or do out of need what we should have been doing all along, but so often, when the difficulty or danger passes, we go back to the way things were. 

       Remember how packed the churches were on the Sunday after 9-11?  Two weeks later, it was all back to a complacent normalcy for many.

       It may seem macabre in our culture which flees sickness, weakness and mortality, but I often meditate on my death in prayer. Not knowing how much time I have left gives urgency to the present moment. I could be dead next week and I do not want to waste a single second of NOW on trivial things that do not matter. 

       Death is a frame around the picture of life, setting limits, numbering the days and years that remain, breathing hints of the brevity of life and the rapidity of time. Energy spent in anger, regret, fear and grudges is all wasted effort; in such moments, we are spending the precious coinage of our life on things that are passing away and usually never matter as much as we think.

       I want to live the drama of salvation, not watch it safely from the sidelines. I want to be fully present to this moment, drinking in its graces and promise because it will never come my way again. I want to embrace the essential, spending my energy, talents and years on what ultimately matters - God and his kingdom, the salvation of my neighbor, the dignity and happiness of others. 

       Even if I live to be 94 years old, I only have about 2,000 weeks left to do something for God that no one else can do. Time is ticking away!  Maybe I should put 2,000 pebbles in a jar and take one out every week to remember the preciousness and brevity of time.

       Autumn reminds us that all earthly things must pass. The vibrant green of summer gives way to the yellow, red and brown hues of harvested fields and dying leaves. Nature puts on her most beautiful dress before surrendering to the cold death of winter. 

       Every summer as a child, my family would visit my paternal grandparents, who lived on a dairy farm - big stuff for city kids! Feeding the pigs and collecting eggs from the chickens was fun for a week. I went there recently, knowing that the farm had been sold years ago to an owner who had neglected it terribly.  My visit shocked me.

       Every single building, with the exception of the house, was gone; the only vestige of the barn was the foundation, now grown over with tall grass. The other structures had vanished without a trace. My heart holds such vivid memories of this place, once vibrant with life and growth. As a child, I thought my grandparents and their home were somehow immutable and eternal, that things would always be delightfully as they were. All of it had disappeared; what seemed so sturdy and enduring no longer even existed.

       Faith teaches us to surrender gracefully to the seasons of life, knowing that only God and his Kingdom are eternal, that we are simple pilgrims passing through this world, that we are created for the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven and nothing less will satisfy us. Such a vision allows us to cherish the people, experiences and graces of the past without needing to cling to them.  

       The saints always lived wide-eyed in the present with their hearts set on the North Star of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. These melancholy November days of darkness, cold and death are not so bad; they serve as road markers on the way to the celestial banquet of life, joy, love and grace, where God will be all in all. 

       As Teresa of Avila said, “Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God. God alone suffices.”


       + Donald J. Hying

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