As such, he is the patron saint of young students, and bubonic plague victims (with whom he worked during most of his last days).
What is compelling about his story, I believe, is that he died young. He was 23. According to legend, he had visions of his death well beforehand, so he knew the exact date of his death.
What would we do if we knew the exact dates of our own deaths?
I know I have reflected on death a few times over the last few years. So why does this keep coming up?
I believe it is due to the very fact that many of our societal problems stem from people who deny or ignore this very fundamental phenomenon of human existence.
For example, a friend of mine works as an inbound sales agent for a major hotel chain. This chain has a “rewards” program, where members accumulate points for each night they pay to stay in one of its hotels. They can then, once they’ve accumulated enough points, stay free for a night or two. Sometimes members call in to quibble about inaccuracies in posting points. Some of these members have accumulated millions of points, but are obsessively worried about correcting a mere 500 point error on a stay. They call back again and again to find out the status of their claims.
In regard to rewards points, like any other accumulated wealth, you cannot take them with you when you die. The policy is clear: When you die, your spouse inherits your points, but when you have no surviving spouse, or when your spouse dies, the points just go away. All of those points simply get erased from wherever they happen to be stored in the ones and zeroes of a database server.
Dust in the wind.
What must those last few months of life be like to those members? To have accumulated a massive wealth of points, but to perhaps be too ill or immobile to use them. Do they regret the time they spent bellyaching over a couple hundred points? Shouldn’t they be out using them or at least spend the time worrying about something else, something more permanent? But what IS really permanent? Very little. Except . . .
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us to pray the Our Father. That’s where we learn what is permanent, in what we should spend our time and our attention. If we knew the exact dates of our deaths, perhaps this prayer would be all we would really need in the end.
“Thy Kingdom come”: We know where we are now. Where are we going from here?
“Thy will be done”: Isn’t this part of the prayer perfect in helping us as we contemplate our mortality?
“Give us this day our daily bread”: What REALLY nourishes us? How can we steep ourselves in it during our remaining time?
“As we forgive those who trespass against us”: Forgiveness. True forgiveness, from the heart. I’ve never heard of someone regretting time spent praying for and working for forgiveness of another. Never.
Praying the Our Father: Not a “heavenly rewards” plan. Just a good way to live our last days.
(And whom, except perhaps for St. Aloysius Gonzaga, knows exactly when those last days are?)
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