By Fr. William Nordenbrock, C.PP.S.
Life is short, death is sure.
Only the hour remains obscure.
I was a young high school student at Brunnerdale Seminary when I first heard this quote. At the time I found it quite amusing. Fifty-plus years later? Not so much. While the time of my death is still obscure, the passing of time has made this eventuality much less remote. While I don’t know the amount of sand in my hourglass, I know that a lot of sand has already sifted away.
Many people are uncomfortable with the thought of dying and like to believe that death is remote, no matter their age. However, our Scripture readings this Sunday seek to strip away that delusional thinking and force us to acknowledge the transitory nature of our existence on Earth. I don’t think that it is the intention of the writers to make us uncomfortable; rather they provide an invitation to enrich our lives with meaning. The wise among us will pay heed.
As a high school seminarian, juvenile vocational discernment aside, I didn’t spend much time pondering the meaning of life. But during the following 50 years, questions of meaning and how to live a significant life have continued to cycle through my journey. Isn’t it a part of seeing time pass that makes us wonder if we have used that time wisely?
It is hard to avoid the insidious lure of using earthly or human standards to evaluate our lives. As Americans, we are bombarded with the temptation to measure our value in terms of possessions and accomplishments. Both Qoheleth and Luke remind us that our things today will be nothing to us soon enough. Hospice chaplains frequently remind us that in death people mostly regret not failure in their career, but the failure to prioritize time with those they loved. Neither fortune nor fame is admitted into the afterlife. In death, we are as naked as the day we were born.
Meritocracy is so engrained in our cultural DNA that we have a difficult time believing in the unmerited and unlimited love that God offers to us. So we need these Scriptures today to remind us that our God places a higher significance on faithfulness in relationship than fruitfulness in career. We need these scriptures today to shake off the foolish concerns that might seek to dominate our thinking and focus on what is eternally significant. The wise person asks: Am I loving well?
Paul invites us to “seek what is above.” So let us turn our hearts and minds to the important questions: What is essential for faithfulness in our relationships on Earth and what is essential for our relationship with Christ? How are we going to love the “Christ who is all and in all?”
The richness that lasts is found in these relationships that are eternal; the covenant of love that was sealed in Christ’s own blood.
A former moderator general of the worldwide congregation, Fr. Bill Nordenbrock, C.PP.S., resides in Chicago. He serves as the provincial secretary and treasurer of the United States Province.