Ben Sira has this to say about how our thoughts of death should impact us: “Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the most High’s covenant, and overlook faults”
This ancient biblical writer is recommending that the best way to prepare for death — our death and the death of our loved ones — is to accept the reconciliation that God offers us and offer this same reconciliation to others. We are to be first reconciled with God, breaking from sin, obeying His commandments, and being faithful to His covenant. Secondly and simultaneously, we are to reconcile with others, refusing to nurture conflicts with them and overlooking their faults and offenses against us.
If someone like Ben Sira who had no idea of the resurrection of the dead reminds us that our preparation for death demands our reconciliation with God and with others, how much more imperative is this reconciliation for those of us who believe in and look forward in hope for the resurrection of the dead? Do we realize that, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are constantly invited throughout our lives to reconcile with Him and with all those for whom He has shed His blood?
This explains why Jesus is not satisfied with Peter’s offer to forgive his brother only seven times in Mt 8:21-35. Jesus ends His teaching about the unforgiving servant with these words, “So will my heavenly Father to do you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” The unforgiving servant “had no way of paying back his master.” But he received from the king-master a reconciliation that he could never merit, “The master let him go and forgave him the debt.” This can be seen as a non-final judgement moment for the servant because he was now given the chance to grow in that freedom he had received or to abuse it.
Having been reconciled with the king, he was to offer this same reconciliation to his fellow servant from his heart in preparation for his own final judgement. His failure to offer this reconciliation caused him to lose the freedom that was initially offered to him, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the last penny.” Maybe he did so many other good things to others but he simply failed to communicate to others the unmeritable reconciliation he had graciously received from the master.
Jesus asks us to forgive our brothers from our hearts because He has first reconciled us to the Father by His death and resurrection. St. Paul put it this way, “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Once we are reconciled with Jesus and belong to Him as our Lord, “whether we live or die,” then we must also offer reconciliation to all other persons, and do so in preparation for our own death.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot postpone or avoid death in this life. I hope we realize that every single moment of our lives brings us closer to our death, our particular judgements and the final destinies of heaven or hell. But how are we preparing for this death today even as Covid-19 presents us with this reality of death in our world? I pray and hope that we are not only adopting a purely secular idea that tries to prevent death by wearing face masks and face shields, quarantining ourselves, washing our hands countless times, practicing social distancing, etc.
We must seek to receive more than ever the reconciliation with God that Jesus offers us and we must do so without any pretense of meriting it by our sorrows or feelings of contrition. We must realize that there is no such thing as a small sin because of the majesty of the God whom we offend. We must realize that we could never pay God back or give Him something else as a substitute for His forgiveness and mercy.
No matter the gravity or the number of our sins, let us prepare for death by constantly approaching the throne of mercy in the sacrament of confession with confidence because “as far as the east is from the west, so far as He put our transgressions from us.”
This is also not the time to make excuses for our obstinacy. This is not the time to justify ourselves or blame others for our sinful actions. This is not the time to hide behind our political parties and ideologies and pretend that we have not done or contributed to sinful behaviors and policies in the society. We cannot be preparing for death if we estranged from God today for any reason.
This is also the time to offer this reconciliation to others who have offended us or whom we have offended. We cannot wait for them to come to us because our hearts have been reconciled to God in and through Jesus Christ. Unlike Peter who puts a limit and condition to forgiveness, we are to offer forgiveness from the heart because the precious Blood of Jesus has cleansed us from all that estranges us from God so that we can reflect His love to others. Let our forgiveness also extend to the dead who have hurt us too because we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of both the living and the dead.
Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, prepared for His moment of death on the cross by offering reconciliation to others who were far from deserving it, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.. Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” He will not always preserve us and our loved ones from temporal death but He never ceases to prepare our hearts for that inevitable death by offering us a forgiveness we cannot merit and giving us numerous chances to communicate this forgiveness to others. He does this because there is no way that we can enter into heaven while being willfully estranged from God or neighbors.
Yes, death continuously stares us all in the face. Some people will foolishly try to ignore the thoughts of death and hope that they can distract themselves forever. Some will choose to be obstinate in their sins and reject the mercy of God being offered to them. Some will choose to only receive the mercy and reconciliation that Jesus offers and then continue to nurture hostility towards others in their hearts.
Let us be the ones who go all the way and prepare for death by receiving the gift of divine mercy always and offering this same reconciliation to others, living and dead.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!