“The level of commitment required is determined by the value of the prize we seek.”
—George “Pat” Morse, on the effort needed to prepare for death.
From the moment of our birth, we are moving inexorably toward the most important event in our lives: our “Death.” It is not how healthy and strong we are that is most important. What is of greatest importance is how we prepare for the hour of our death.
Why the “hour of our death?” The Church uses the great prayer to our Blessed Mother, the “Hail Mary,” to emphasize its importance. Repeated over and over in our rosary, the “Hail Mary” turns into a plea to the heavenly Mother for our salvation: “Pray for us now and at the hour of our death!”
We may well ask: “Why at that particular moment?” From the lives of the saints we learn that the battle for our soul is most intense just before we die.
What better preparation for death than a lifelong practice of prayer? From this grows an ever-increasing love of God, devotion to the Mother of God, and attachment to our Guardian Angels, those pure spirits whose purpose for being is to aid and guide us to eternal salvation! Is all this prayer and preparation exaggerated? Excessive? Well, let’s examine it, as in any battle — and we are in a battle, a battle to save our souls against “the wiles and wickedness and the snares of Satan.” He who is prepared by training, knowledge of the enemy, conviction, and devotion to the prize, is more likely to succeed than he who leaves to the moment of conflict — or temptation — his preparation for survival.
To draw an analogy to the world we live in: Take the serious young people who aspire to achieve academic excellence in any or all of the subjects, languages, sciences, law and medicine. Do they just decide that language, or science, or math, is going to be their cup of tea and that the necessary skill will come without practice? Of course not. First comes an understanding of the challenge and what it takes to succeed — to star on the athletic field, or behind the footlights, or in the laboratory or courtroom. Then comes practice, practice, practice.
Now, if this is so on the worldly level, why would we expect to attain the far more treasured spiritual and heavenly prize with far less commitment than that required for the worldly prize? No. The level of commitment required is determined by the value of the prize we seek and, for eternity in glory with God, it requires a lifetime of dedication.
Isn’t this what St. Paul tells us, based on his life? “The time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me…” What a prize it is that we run to attain! Truly, a “pearl of great price.” Eternal glory with Christ which St. Paul felt assured he would attain as a result of his long years of “fighting the good fight to the end — of running the race to the finish.” So, too, for us!
Time is valuable and, as a result, a full and consistent prayer life frequently suffers. Time: 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening is a total of 1/48th of the day. If we take seriously the requirement of preparation for death, we will find 15 minutes in the morning either by getting up a little earlier, or cutting out some less important activity, or moving more quickly on our other chores, or a combination of all three. The objective with time is to give precedence to prayer in the morning. First, before all else, what about greeting Jesus and Mary with the beautiful offering prayer: “Dear Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer thee all my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day for the intentions of Your Most Sacred Hearts, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of the Holy Father, and in particular (and here state your most desired intentions).”
Consider, in less than two minutes of focused prayer: the dedication of your life for this whole day to these many wonderful purposes! Consider, if said at the start of the day, in thoughtful contemplation, how interesting and challenging this “Offering” can be! To have a meaning for our pain and suffering, which we must bear anyway, only this way it becomes a source of grace and an aid to holiness!
Finally, create a small shrine close to where you arise, or, if you are a married couple and rise at the same time, in a place of mutual convenience. On that shrine, memorial cards of parents or other family members, of the Holy Family, a relic of a treasured saint, and a crucifix, make for greater concentration and devotion. In time, that shrine will take on greater meaning and provide stimulus to devotion and can increase holiness with a vigil light and a small vase of real or artificial flowers. It will draw you to your knees both on arising and retiring.
Now comes the end of the day and a time when contemplation of the desire for a happy death and the hope for eternal life with Christ is likely to be more acceptable. Here, too, particular prayers designed by Mother Church are particularly efficacious.
It is time to return to the obvious question of many: “Does He really want me to spend all my life thinking of the ‘end of my life?’ I’m busy with living, not dying. There is plenty of time to prepare for death.” Well, the “time” to be used in preparation is hardly “all your life,” although in a sense it is, since it may result in a bit of a change that may become permanent. And that’s the point of it, isn’t it? To make a change in the use of time that may bring great rewards. And, if we should be taken suddenly in the midst of our prayers, wouldn’t that be our most ardent desire?