Class: 
Cycle B: Thirty-third Sunday of the Liturgical Year

 

FEAR OF DEATH

 

The Church often invites us to look at the reality of death with the eyes of faith. While we do that, we need not be afraid.

 

I-   Unforeseen events

 

It is only when they are confronted with unforeseen events that people really show what they are capable of. They have to struggle whatever the cost, without any opportunity to make plans or make a show of themselves. Some are led to reveal how mean they are, while others manifest their greatness of soul in facing these unforeseen events.

 

People

A woman was thought to be weak and without any courage. Suddenly she got paralyzed and was in danger of death. Then her relatives and friends saw with what strength of character she succeeded in facing this ordeal.

There was this other man who was thought to be very kind and generous until the day he was cheated in his business and lost a lot of money. Then he really showed his selfishness.

The best bus drivers reveal their skills only when they are confronted with an unforeseen obstacle on the road.

Go and meet someone you know at the moment he/she least expects, and you have a chance to find out what he/she really thinks of you. In other words, unforeseen events are occasions to reveal what is best or what is worst in people.

 

Nations

 

See what happens when there is a tsunami, a big cyclone or an earthquake somewhere in the world. The people of that country reveal their greatness and generosity of heart by coming to the rescue of the victims, or they show their corruption by looting all houses.

When the Japanese people were forced to surrender after losing the war more than seventy years ago, they showed the nobility of their soul and found new strength to rebuild their nation.

 

Ourselves

For each one of us the most unforeseen event we can think of is death. Even though we know very well that we are going to die one day, even though some of us get clear indications that very few years of life are left to them, death will always remain for us the most unforeseen event, the most unexpected guest! It will reveal to others the quality of our souls.

 

II-   The end of the world

One day, Jesus was asked by his disciples to speak about the most unforeseen event of all: the end of the world. And, sure enough, he did not tell them when it is going to happen. He simply gave them signs. He said: “The sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” In other words, we don’t know when the end of the world will come: “As for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son; no one but the Father.” But one thing is sure: something unforeseen will happen which will lead people to reveal the quality of their souls.

 

There has always been people who forecast that the end of the world is round the corner. These prophets of doom tell us with certainty that the end of the world is about to come and they give us reasons for this: earthquakes are taking place everywhere, there is a proliferation of nuclear weapons all over the world, and wars are waged around the globe…. Even some Christians are losing their faith and leaving the Church… So, “the end of the world is approaching”, they say.

 

But what is the use of frightening us with such prophecies of doom? When Jesus spoke of the signs that will accompany the end of the world, he did not do it to frighten us, but to call us to conversion and invite us to keep ready: “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.”  When we spend our time trying to imagine when exactly the end of the world will come or what will be the time of our death, we forget the essential which is to repent for our sins and work actively for our salvation. We entertain a fear of the end, while Jesus came to bring an end to fear.

 

III-   Becoming like little children

 

Some time ago, when I visited my family in Canada, I saw a five-year old girl playing with her friends behind our house. The children were playing a curious kind of game: they were trying to imagine various kinds of ways in which they could die. So, I asked that little girl: “Why do you want to die like that?” And she said: “To go to heaven.”

 

Her reply took me by surprise. Later on, I asked myself: what did she really mean? What did she imagine about heaven?

I believe she had the presentiment of a great love, because she had a big smile on her face. That little girl had absolutely no idea of what life on earth would be for her, the sufferings and injustices that she would experience in the years to come. Yet she was so full of hope. Her answer was not a way of escaping the realities of life, because she did not know them yet. For her, to die in order to go to heaven was the best she could think of. Then I asked myself another question: why is it that we, adults, are afraid of death? How can we rediscover the admirable assurance that the children have before death?

“Cancer makes people start thinking about the quality of their lives. Everything they do has a keener edge on it and they get more out of life. In fact, some people never became completely human beings. They never started living until they got cancer. We all know we are going to die some time, but cancer makes people face up to it. They are going to go on living with a lot of extra enjoyment, just because they have faced the fear of death. Cancer patients are not dying; they’re living. I have never seen a suicide because of cancer.”     (Palmerston North)

 

For that little girl who played with her friends, to go to heaven meant to find perfect happiness. I could see that joy reflected on her face. She knew instinctively that God would keep her in that joy. Then again I asked myself the same question: why is it that we, adults, are afraid of death? Perhaps the best way to get rid of our fears would be to become like little children and to play again the game of dying!

If we were to play that game again, maybe we would give more importance in our lives to the words that Jesus will utter at the end of time:  “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me; in prison and you came to see me…”

Hervé Morissette, csc

 

Author: 
Hervé Morissette, csc