You’ve heard the saying, “When you least expect it, expect it.” Consider those words in light of the horror of the recent tidal waves that devastated Southeast Asia, killing some 200,000 people. Many of those killed by the waves were one moment relaxing on the beach, the next, being swept away to their deaths without warning. One moment, they were having fun, the next moment they found themselves standing before Christ the Judge having to render to him an account of their lives. “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
How many of those tsunami victims were prepared for their eternal judgment? How prepared would you be if your life ended suddenly?
The tsunami tragedy is a grim but important reminder that we must always be spiritually prepared to die. This means a sincere conversion of heart, repentance and turning away from sin, and a return to the sacraments. Since we have no way of knowing when death will come, the only sane option is to live in such a way as to always be ready.
In his classic work, ‘‘The Imitation of Christ,’’ Thomas à Kempis, wrote: “Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience. . . . Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren’t fit to face death today, it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow.”
Consider these Scripture passages that make this point perfectly clear:
Isaiah 55:6-7 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
This passage reminds us that now is the time for mercy and repentance. Now is the time to “call upon” the Lord “while he may be found.” This indicates that at some point, that time for mercy and repentance will pass and then comes judgment and justice.
James 4:13-15 -- “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain’; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.’”
Luke 12:16-21 -- “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Matthew 25:1-13 -- “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to 10 maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Mark 13:32-37 -- “Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning -- lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.”
1 Thessalonians 5:2-6 -- ‘‘For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail [i.e. labor pains] comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. ‘But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”
Revelation 3:2-3 -- “Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.”
Sirach 5:7 -- “Do not delay to turn to the Lord, nor postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will go forth, and at the time of punishment you will perish.”
St. Francis of Assisi once wrote, “Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister bodily death, from whom no living man can escape. Woe on those who will die in mortal sin! Blessed are they who will be found in your most holy will, for the second death will not harm them.” He knew well Scripture’s warnings about the importance of preparing for death, and that the most foolish thing one can do is delay his conversion. Some people, sadly, delay too long, and by then it’s too late.
Additional Bible Verses: Genesis 3:19; Numbers 23:1; Deuteronomy 32:29; Job 14:5; Sirach 1:13; Ecclesiastes 7:1-2, 11:8; Psalms 103: 15-16; Matthew 24:48-51; Luke 12:35-37, 21:36; Hebrews 10:31-31; 1 Peter 4:7
Related Passages in the Catechism: CCC 1005 1060
Patrick Madrid is an author, public speaker and the publisher of Envoy Magazine. Visit his web site at www.surprised