In recent weeks, I have been sorting my stuff into what needs to be packed, what can be given away and what can be discarded. The other day I was struck by the story I read by a good Catholic journalist friend of mine. He wrote about the elderly people of Karamless in Iraq. The IS terrorists were nearing their village and all of the younger people fled. The only ones left behind were the elderly who were not fit enough to run. When the terrorists got to the village, they told all the elderly people (who were all Christians) that they must convert to Islam or they would be killed.
The courageous elderly people said that they would rather die than deny Christ. Perhaps the terrorists could not find anyone willing to kill all the elderly people but in any case, they were told to leave the village immediately with only the clothes on their backs. We must pray for them and hope that their prayers help us – especially when we are in a dilemma about which of our possessions to recycle.
Despite hearing daily of those who die suddenly, whether in war or in peace, we find it difficult to remember that our life here is short, we have one soul to save and an eternity to face. A young priest was reminded of this once when he visited a monastery. He went to talk to one of the old monks in his cell, to obtain some spiritual advice, and commented on how few possessions the old monk had. The wise religious replied that the young priest had very few things in the guest room. The young guest replied “But I am only passing through.” The old monk replied “We are all only passing through.”
That is why so many great saints focussed on the four last things in their preaching and why great spiritual writers began with this theme as the first meditation when guiding others to deepen their spiritual life. Here on earth, God calls us to know, love and serve Him, especially through our charity to others: in heaven, He has prepared an eternal place of happiness. To live according to God’s will on earth will certainly make the world a better place, but at the same time it will make us fit to receive our eternal reward.
On the day before his execution, St Thomas More wrote to his daughter from his cell in the Tower of London and said “pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends that we may merrily meet in heaven.” Well I am only moving down to Margate, not facing martyrdom, but I could not think of a better prayer to make than that of the pioneer of our English Martyrs.
Sermon given by Fr Finigan for the 22nd Sunday of the year (A). Our Lady of the Rosary. 31 August 2014