Keep Awake for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. These words have been repeated for over 2,000 years, yet somehow we still fear the end of our life on earth. Sure, we are comforted by the many parallels in nature that reveal death to be a precursor to new life, but the fear of death lingers in the shadows. We have - or likely have - lived longer than our parents and grandparents. We are better fed; we lose few babies, and modern medicine protects us from contagion and disease that will lengthen our lives... and yet, we are still afraid. Why?
Shortly after 9/11 the words Fear Not seemed a little out of place. Surely we had every reason to be afraid. I am reminded of Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest, who served as Chaplain to the New York Fire Dept., and was the first registered victim at Ground Zero, the sight of the former Twin Towers. The details of his death are unclear: some say he was fatally wounded as he administered last rites to a dying firefighter; others recall his being killed while in silent prayer. Whatever happened, his lifeless body was discovered in the lobby and carried to a nearby church shortly before Tower I collapsed.
What does this have to do with our gospel (Mark 13:24-37)? Who knew how that fateful Tuesday that began with skies so blue and air so clear, would end as it did? In many ways, Father Mychal lived this gospel. In many ways this was a man who had arrived at Ground Zero long before 9/11. He had proved himself ready to lay down his life many times during his career. For him 9/11 could have occurred on any day or at any time... he was prepared.
If the thought of finding God amidst such harrowing circumstances seems strange, perhaps it is because we are out of practice looking for Him. However, we can be certain that Christ's death and resurrection hold the deepest answer to all our fears. Christ was executed like a common criminal and was totally forsaken by his friends. By His overcoming death and our sharing in his resurrection, He took away all our reasons to fear forever. Of course it does no good to recognize this on a merely intellectual level. Knowing that Christ loves us may not save us from fear, nor will it save us from death. And so it comes down to this: The only way to truly overcome our fear of death is to "be prepared" and to live our life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death. As with Father Mike, it means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves instead of others. It means being prepared to die again and again to ourselves, and to every one of our self-serving opinions and agendas. But about that day or hour no one knows.