Marge Fenelon ponders the opportunities we can find in Jesus' reminder to be prepared for our own death.
This morning, I was stunned by the news that the husband of a high school classmate had died in a tragic auto accident. He was a devoted family man who was active in the service of God. He died doing one of the things he most enjoyed – driving a milk truck in rural Wisconsin, somewhat of an avocation he took up after retiring from his long-time job with the Highway Department. His obituary showed that he was a God-loving man committed to serving the Divine and others. In an instant he was gone.
I found this so hard to understand. Doesn’t God need more dedicated servants in his vineyard? Knowing this man personally made the grappling for understanding that much more difficult. Losing, say, an elderly relative or someone with a lethal illness is awful, but not all that unexpected. Losing someone of your own age group, someone you knew as a kid, someone who is like you in state-of-life circumstances, someone who passes away unexpectedly, puts another spin on it entirely.
Since hearing the news, one Scripture passage has been playing over and over in my head.
"Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." (Matthew 25:13)
This isn’t true just for my classmate and her family. It’s true for all of us, every day, all day. We do not know when God will call a loved one or ourselves home to be with him in Eternity. Christ spoke those words at the conclusion of the parable about the 10 bridesmaids awaiting the bridegroom for the wedding. Five of them thought ahead and brought extra oil with them; five of them we not so smart and brought none. As you might expect, the bridegroom was late in coming and so the foolish bridesmaids had no oil left for their lamps so they could accompany him. The smart ones, of course, were well prepared and so they were able to go. You might say the foolish ones were left out in the cold, literally and figuratively.
This can be a negative way of approaching life if we focus on the fact that we – or anyone – could die at any time. In fact, it can be downright scary. But there’s an upside to it. The upside is that we should make the most of each day, not out of fear but out of love for God. Our Lord’s admonition to keep awake is really a joyful challenge. If we keep awake, we open our eyes to the countless blessings God sends us throughout every single day of our lives. The freshness of the morning, that first cup of coffee, the smile of a loved one, the cry of a baby. Fall leaves rustling in the wind, a message from a friend, hearing a favorite song. These are all little gifts of love designed by God specifically for us.
Even the most miserable situation or heaviest cross is cause for joy because it’s God’s way of strengthening us and preparing us for what lies ahead. If we don’t keep awake, we miss the opportunity to make the most of each day by spending it in the service of God and those He places in our care.
Yes, each day could be our last – our last day to fully carry out our God-given mission, our last day to spread God’s joy, our last day to increase our faith and impact the faith of those around us. We could well have years, decades, or more of last days ahead. The possibilities of what we could do with those days are endless. With each passing day, our love of God grows, his grace within us increases, and the good we do multiplies.
And so, we keep awake and keep our lamps full not to guard against the darkness but so that we can more effectively spread the Light.
Copyright 2021 Marge Fenelon
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About the Author
Marge Steinhage Fenelon is a wife, mother, award-winning author and journalist, blogger, and popular speaker. She appears weekly on Relevant Radio's "Morning Air Show" and other Catholic radio shows. She blogs regularly for National Catholic Register and at MargeFenelon.com. She's author of the best-selling "Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena (Ave Maria Press, 2016) and many other books on Marian devotion and Catholic spirituality.