Triumph Over Death
Saint Paul teaches us in the Second Reading of the Mass that when the risen and glorious body clothes itself in immortality, death will be finally conquered. Then we will be able to ask: O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin ... It was sin that brought death into the world. When God created man, besides the supernatural gifts of grace He gave him other gifts which perfected nature in its own order. Among them was the gift of bodily immortality, which our first parents were to transmit, along with life, to their descendants. Original sin carried with it the loss of friendship with God and the consequent loss of that gift of immortality. Death, the wages of sin, entered a world which had been created as a place for living beings. Revelation teaches us that God did not make death, and He does not delight in the death of the living.
Through sin, death came to all: ‘The just and the unjust likewise die, the good and the evil, the clean and the unclean, he who offers sacrifices and he who does not. The same end befalls the saint and the sinner; it befalls him who swears and him who refrains from swearing. Men and animals are all likewise reduced to dust and ashes’. Everything material comes to an end, each thing in its own time. The physical world and all it contains is directed towards a final consummation, as we are too.
At death, man loses everything he possessed in his lifetime. As with the rich man in the parable, God will say to the one who has thought only of himself, of his well-being and his comfort: Fool! ... the things you have prepared, whose will they be? Each one will bring with him only the merits of his good works and the weight of his sins. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth. ‘Blessed indeed’, says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!’ The opportunity to acquire merit for eternal life lends with death. Of this, our Lord warns: Night comes, when no one can work. At death, our will stays fixed forever on good or on evil, remaining in friendship with God or rejecting his mercy for all eternity.
Meditation on our last end can move us, while we are still on earth, to react against lukewarmness, against any reluctance to commit ourselves entirely to God’s service, and to develop our relationship with him. It can wean us from attachment to earthly things, which we must soon leave behind us in any case, encourage us to sanctify our work and enable us to understand that this life is a period, a short one, in which we can gain merit in the sight of God.
Let us remember today that our earthly bodies are no more than perishable clay. We know, nevertheless, that we have been created for eternity, that our souls can never die, and that our bodies will one day rise again glorious, if we have died in God’s friendship, to be united once more to our souls. And this fills us with joy and peace and moves us to live as children of God in the world.