Last Sunday night I was planning my route in the Scottish Hills for the next day. Despite being a very keen hill walker I felt a rather peculiar reluctance and unwillingness. I was weighing up all important factors, but eventually my gut feelings prevailed and I decided not to do any serious climb on Monday. Instead I went for a rather undemanding, though pretty long walk in the Dufftown area; it was really enjoyable experience. On my way back home I was called by a hospital to a parishioner; thirty minutes later I was administering the sacrament of the sick and communion to that person. Next time I visited her she was unconscious, and eventually she passed away last Friday. Had I gone to the hills on my day-off I wouldn’t have had a chance to speak to her for our last time. You may not agree with my interpretation, but I’m sure God was looking after her and that was the reason I’d been kept away from the hills.
That story begins about two months earlier. That parishioner approached me one Tuesday after evening Mass and requested a chat. We sat down in the parish house and she told me she’d been diagnosed as terminally ill. Since that night I’ve tried to support her along with a couple of Eucharistic ministers from St Peter’s and some of her friends. It might sound terrible, but somehow she was a fortunate person. She knew that her earthly life was coming to its completion, and so she had time to sort things out. In today’s gospel Jesus urges his followers to be ready to meet their Creator when he comes. It’s a descriptive image of the household expecting the return of their master, ‘dressed for action and the lamps lit, […] ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks.’ That call finishes with a bit of an unsettling warning: ‘You must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’
It might be a bit strange to think and to talk about the possibility of death in the middle of the longest and hottest summer for years. People are enjoying such good weather and the opportunities it makes. But at the same time we hear and read about people’s lives coming to an abrupt end in more or less dramatic circumstances. A fatal series of recent train, bus and car accidents, or sudden illness like that of James Gandolfini show us that not everything depends on us. Sometimes despite our best efforts, careful preparations and security measures something can go wrong, leaving no time and giving no chance to sort things out.
The message of today’s gospel is not about making your will in order to avoid the commotion and mess with estate left behind, though it is important. The message is about keeping the relationships sorted out here and now, without postponing them for later. It’s all about forgiving and accepting forgiveness, it’s all about expressing love and respect, it’s all about time and attention given to relatives and friends. At the end of the day these are things that people left behind regret the most: the unspoken words, irrevocably lost time, the unforgiven acts. Don’t leave these things for later. Do them here and now.