The Catholic Moment: Walk while you have the light
Nov. 19, 2010
By Father Earl Fernandes
November is a month for remembering and praying for our beloved dead. My maternal grandparents died before I was born. My paternal grandfather died when I was five, and my grandmother died last year. All my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side have died, and my father’s older siblings have departed this life as well. They were buried in the family plots in India. Distance has “protected” me from the sting of death and the anguish of losing a loved one.
The one person I have lost to whom I was greatly devoted was Msgr. Robert Amann, who was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1950. He was a mentor and friend. He was very kind to me when I was in the seminary and when I was first ordained. I admired his faithfulness and perseverance. He suffered for many years from arthritis and endured seven hip replacements. He was truly a spiritual father.
One day his nephew called. It was a Sunday. He told me that the good monsignor had died. His funeral is the only time I can remember crying in the last 20 years. I think of him often. I offer Mass with his chalice. I visit his grave, but I cannot bring him back. I wish I had more time with him — to have that last conversation with him, but there was no more time given. Death comes to us all.
St. Augustine writes in The City of God: “Yet here another source of sadness, for the death of those can never leave us free of grief whose friendship during this life was a solace and delight…Such grief, in a broken heart, is like a wound or open sore that men feel it a duty to offer us the balm of their condolences. And if the heart is more easily and quickly healed the more virtuous a man is, that does not mean there was no wound to heal.”
As children, my mother would send my brothers and me to the priests with envelopes of two and five dollars to have low and high Masses offered. Knowing that prayers were being offered helped heal the wound of losing a loved one. They say that time too heals all wounds, but death should make us reflect on our use of time. Did we use our time to tell those who meant so much to us how much they meant; how much we loved them; how grateful we were for their sacrifices? Time is a precious gift, not only to heal wounds, but also to love. In a single moment of sorrow or love, a person can gain God’s grace or even heaven itself. How do you spend your time?
Sometimes I see people standing around and I ask, “What are you doing?” They respond, “We’re just passing time.”
So much time is “passed,” time which will never be able to be used for something worthwhile or good — for prayer, for forgiveness, for serving the poor, for glorifying God. How much time is wasted watching TV or on the Internet? When the hour of our death approaches, will we not beg for just a little more time to get our house in order, to make our peace with God? The hour of our death should not be the time to begin preparing for eternity; rather, that hour is the time for us to prepare for the departure from this earth into eternity.
In the business world, lawyers and accountants have so-called “billable hours.” They must render an account for the stewardship of their time. We too will have to render an account to God of our time spent in His service.
As the calendar year draws to a close, we might reflect on the words of St. John: “The light is with you a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overtake you.”
Father Fernandes is an assistant professor of moral theology and dean of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary.