A recent article I read about the new book, Benedict XVI—Last Testament: In His Own Words really caught my attention. In it, the pope is quoted as saying that as he prays and prepares for death, he fears death because the closer he draws to God, “the more intensely you feel how much you have done wrong.” My immediate reaction to that was, “Wow! A holy man like Benedict XVI, with all the good he’s done, with the positive influence he’s had on so many souls, and he feels like this? What does that mean for me and my life? What can I do—what can others do—to prepare our souls to meet Our Lord when the time comes?”
One of the questions I ask my clients in my succession management business is, “What if the beer truck runs over you tomorrow?” In other words, if you were to die tomorrow, what would happen? Are your life and your business in a state of readiness that will allow the business to continue on without you? Would your heirs get their share of the business value? As you might imagine, there are a variety of factors to address in getting ready for an owner’s exit, be it planned or unexpected. It requires advance planning, evaluating options, making difficult decisions and implementing them.
From a spiritual perspective, it is a good idea for each of us to ask ourselves periodically, “What if the beer truck runs over me tomorrow?” What if I were to die tomorrow? More important than the issues relating to this temporal life—insurance policies, wills, personal representatives, and the like—what is my immortal soul’s state of readiness? When I make my exit from this ephemeral time on earth, what will I face? How have I been doing in planning for my end goal of spending eternity with my Lord and Savior? What difficult choices have I made or do I still need to make for this to happen? How and when will I get started in making some much needed changes in my life? Where can I get help in doing so? This is the first part of a two-part series addressing some practical matters we might want to consider in light of the “beer truck” scenario.
Now Is the Time
Some people may believe they are young enough that this is something they can put off and address more rigorously later on, in due time. If we still are somewhat hesitant about asking and answering the “beer truck” question now, in the present moment, we might benefit by taking a look at the obituary section of virtually any newspaper. People of all ages routinely are called home every day. We know neither the date nor the time when our earthly life will be snatched away from us. The Gospels are replete with parables addressing this very matter.
The Wedding Banquet
Consider the parable of the wedding banquet, Mt 22: 1-14. Some people did not respond to the king’s invitation to the wedding banquet. One person who did show up came inappropriately dressed for the occasion and was tossed out on his ear. Jesus uses this story to awaken us to a key point. In his reflection on this parable, Bishop Robert Barron tells us that our Heavenly Father is inviting us to share in the banquet of Divine Life. Each and every one of us has received such an invitation. How willing are we to respond to it? Do we accept God’s freely given grace and His invitation? How prepared are we to do so? How appropriately have we been living our lives and witnessing our faith?
We might also want to think about the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom (Mt 25: 1-13). Five were prepared for the coming of the bridegroom; the other five were not prepared, and ran out of oil for their lamps. Haydock’s commentary refers to St. Augustine’s explanation of this parable:
We may always keep watching to our hearts by faith, hope, charity, and all other good works. But when we awake, like the five wise virgins, we must arise and trim our lamps, by supplying them with the oil of good works. Then they will not go out, nor will the soothing oil of a good conscience be wanting to us. Then will the bridegroom come and introduce us to his house, where we shall never need sleep or rest; nor will our lamps ever be in danger of going out.
What have we been doing to trim our spiritual lamps and supply them with the oil of good works in this life?
The Rich Fool
If we still hesitate to think about the “beer truck” scenario and about getting our souls into a state of readiness for when the time comes (and it will come for all of us—of that we can be certain), let’s not forget about the “rich fool” of Luke 12: 16-21, about whom Jesus tells us:
There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’…and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.
The point is not that it is bad to be successful in the secular world, or that it is bad to accumulate material possessions, or even a lot of material riches. Rather, it is all about what we do with our possessions and the gifts God has given us that has allowed us to accumulate those possessions. Do we recognize that all we have comes from Him, not from us? Do we give Him praise and thanks for the blessings He has given us? How grateful are we for what He has done for us? Within that context, how do we use what He has given to us? Do we hoard our gifts, talents and possessions for ourselves?
Parable of the Talents
Or do we share our gifts and possessions with others to build up the Kingdom of God for His Greater Glory? Sharing our gifts with others also is a key theme in the Gospels. In Mt 25: 14-30, Jesus uses the Parable of the Talents to emphasize the need to use our God-given blessings and gifts to further His Kingdom here on earth. Taking a passive approach to leveraging our gifts for His Greater Glory is not the path to our attaining the beatific vision. In Mt 25: 35-40, Jesus goes on to tell us that we are to exercise what amount to the Corporal Works of Mercy in assisting others:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…
Clearly this requires us to devote our resources, which all come from Him, to serving others. Father Larry Richards, in his book, Be A Man! and his DVD series of the same name reminds us that everything we have is from God. Father Larry suggests that, if God asks us to return 10% of it by way of a tithe, it really is not unreasonable. If it seems like a stretch to get to 10%, can we begin to gradually increase from whatever we doing now, and move toward that target?
Sharing Our Gifts
The late Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, foundress of the EWTN communications network, explained this well, in her own inimitable manner, in a piece she wrote in 1999. In that article she gives us a checklist of how we might be of service. She gives us multiple suggestions for ways to share our individual gifts. Mother Angelica tells us that each of us has a need to give, to be of service to God and to His Kingdom. It is built into us. This is a message that was repeated at an annual International Catholic Stewardship Conference I attended. At this conference, Father Andrew Kemberling, a fellow Coloradoan who has written a book on stewardship, Making Stewardship a Way of Life: A Complete Guide for Catholic Parishes, pointed out that this need to give can only be fulfilled by giving—not by taking.
We are made by God to give of ourselves. Yet in today’s secular culture, we are prompted at every turn, through all forms of media, to try to fill that need by taking, by accumulating, by acquiring more and more for us. This never results in a sense of fulfillment; we only end up with a sense of wanting to acquire yet more in our attempt to fill the gaping hole inside of us. All the while, the only thing that actually will fill the hole is the love of God, the giving of ourselves to others.
In part two of this two-part series, to be published tomorrow, we’ll continue with some food for thought in answer to the “beer truck” question.