Even in her death, Mother teaches us the central Christian reality that Christ is risen from the dead. He has trampled down death by his victory over death. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who have ‘fallen asleep’, so that you may not grieve like the rest of mankind who has no hope” (1 Thes 4:13). Mother generally avoided euphemisms. But here St. Paul intentionally describes those Christians who have died before Christ’s return as having “fallen asleep”. He is not alone in using that phrase. Jesus uses it to describe Lazarus and St. Luke uses it to describe the martyrdom of Stephen (John 11:11; Acts 7:60). Through this phrase, the New Testament helps remove the “sting of death” for those who are united to Christ in faith and baptism. Through his present reign, Christ is continuing to apply the victory he achieved on the earth and is now applying from heaven seated at the right hand of the Father. “For he must reign, until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:25, 26). Mother’s dying in Christ on Easter Sunday is evidence of his current reign over history and a reassurance of the hope we all have.
As one commentator put it: “Grief for the death of friends is lawful; we may weep for our own loss, though it may be their gain. Christianity does not forbid, and grace does not do away, our natural affections. Yet we must not be excessive in our sorrows; this is too much like those who have no hope of a better life. …The doctrines of the resurrection and the second coming of Christ, are a remedy against the fear of death, and undue sorrow for the death of our Christian friends…We have full assurance…that all the saints shall meet, and remain together forever; but the principal happiness of heaven is to be with the Lord, to see him, live with him, and enjoy him for ever.”
What is your destiny?
Mother’s death wonderfully points us to the destiny of those who are in Christ. We look forward to glorious face to face communion with the One who created us out of the overflowing, abundant love that exists from all eternity among the members of the Triune God. The Christian need not fear death because Christ destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” He freed “those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life” (Heb 2:14, 15). Those whom the Son has set free are free indeed (Jn 8:16).
But death also puts an end to human life as the opportunity to either accept or reject the divine grace offered us in Jesus. Tragically, not all will be saved. After death, each will be immediately rewarded in accord with his work and faith. Only two contrasting ends are possible: Heaven or Hell. Will we hear, like the good thief crucified beside Jesus, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise”? Or will we hear “Depart from me, you evildoers. I never knew you” (Lk 23:43; Mt 7:23).
Those are terrifying words: “I never knew you.” Does Christ know us as his own? Or do we remain separated from communion with him? Apart from Christ, we await “the fiery prospect of judgment that is going to consume the adversaries” (Heb 10:27). We don’t have eternity to make this choice. The choice to trust Christ and follow him must be made on earth. There is no reincarnation. There is no second chance after death. Nor will all be saved in spite of the sentiments of many well-intentioned but poorly taught Catholics. “It is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). We will be judged. We will either become saints or we will be in hell. We will either be placed with the sheep or the goats. Christ is the one who spoke most clearly about eternal punishment. We cannot speak of God’s love without including the fate of those who refuse to receive the love of God offered to us in Christ Jesus.
We all have a choice to love and be loved.
God’s love offered to us requires a choice. It was Love Incarnate, Jesus who taught us to “enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life and those who find it are few” (Mt 7:13, 14). Today is the day of salvation. If you have never trusted Christ personally, if he has always been The Redeemer but not your Redeemer, your Saviour, your Lord, then today is the day to turn to Christ and say, “Jesus, for too long I’ve tried to organize my life around my plans and pleasures without looking to you. Take my life today. Forgive my sins. I want your friendship and guidance. I want you to shape my will and my desires. I vow to seek out your forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation and to form my conscience through Scripture and the teachings of apostles and their successors, the bishops. Lord Jesus, make my life a prayer to you. I want to do what you want me to. I turn from my anger, envy, greed, lust, sloth, jealousy, faithlessness, spiritual indifference, white lies, token prayers, moral compromise, irresponsibility, poor stewardship, lack of love for you and others. Forgive my sin and lead to me to life everlasting.” That prayer can be just the beginning of a life that will lead to eternal glory in heaven but also profound meaning and purpose on earth.
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