If you were called to the Lord this evening, would you be ready to face Him? We would be if only we have a clear conscience that we have discharged all the responsibilities that have been entrusted to us in life in an honourable way. Indeed, this was the case of St Paul and Jesus in today’s scripture readings. Both of them knew that their end was near. Both of them examined their conscience in all honesty before God as to whether they had been faithful to their responsibilities in life. St Paul said, “You know what my way of life has been ever since the first day I set foot among you in Asia, how I have served the Lord in all humility, with all the sorrows and trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I have not hesitated to do anything that would be helpful to you; I have preached to you, and instructed you both in public and in your homes, urging both Jews and Greeks to turn to God and to believe in our Lord Jesus.” In a similar vein, Jesus also declared, “I have glorified you on earth and finished the work that you gave me to do.” Truly, they have every reason to feel confident in meeting their Heavenly Father.
In both cases, we see their total commitment to their vocation and mission right to the end, even in the face of trials and tribulations. How inspiring indeed, when we read of St Paul’s single-mindedness in his determination to finish the task he was appointed to do. He not only did not flinch in the face of threats or imminent suffering and death, but instead he confidently said, “But life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me – and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace.” So, too, Jesus resolutely took the road to Jerusalem when He realized that the only way to give glory to the Father was to give His life for Him and for humanity on the cross. Neither did He regret, knowing that His mission would apparently end in failure on the cross. His desire was only to do the Father’s will and to show the world that He loved His Father.
What about us? Can we in all honesty say that we have done our best in whichever vocation the Lord has appointed us to? If you are married, can you truthfully say that you have been faithful to your marriage vows; that you have loved your spouse more than yourself, to the extent of even giving up your freedom and self-interests for the happiness of your spouse? If you have not, then you have failed in your commitment to love your spouse the way the Lord loves His Church and sacrificed His life for us to make us pure and spotless. (cf Eph 5:26-27) When you appear before the Lord, He will ask you, “Did you love like me?”
As for those of us who are parents, teachers and leaders, the Lord will also ask us whether we have been true guardians of the souls of those entrusted to our care. Have we put the interests of our children and subordinates before ours? We must never forget that when God appoints us to be parents and leaders or superiors, whether at home, in Church or at the office, we are given the task of looking after the welfare of those given to our care. A leader is a minister, one who makes himself or herself small so that he or she can serve as a servant-leader. A leader must have the interests of those whom he leads before his own. When we put our convenience, pleasure, comfort and interests before them, we are self-serving. If anyone wishes to assume leadership in order to gain more wealth, power, privileges and status, he or she would have to account for the abuses of authority before the Lord.
We can never die in peace when the time comes for us to leave this world, when we know that we have been negligent and irresponsible in many things. When we fail to live up to the vocation the Lord has chosen for us, we fail as persons. Real failure is not determined by worldly estimation of success but whether we have been faithful to our office and vocation. Blessed Mother Teresa constantly reminded us that we are called to be faithful, not successful. If we are faithful even if we have not been successful, we can depart from this world and return to the Lord in peace. But even if we have been successful and have brought results, insofar as we have not given ourselves completely to our tasks and responsibilities and to the people entrusted to our care, we are true failures.
Like St Paul and Jesus, we are called to glorify God by our lives. In everything we do, we must seek to make the Father’s love known and experienced in our words and deeds. In a certain sense, all of us represent not just Jesus in the world, especially to all those whom we serve and meet, but we are called to manifest the compassionate and loving face of the Father. God is known and loved when we show forth His glory in us by acting out His love for us.
Nevertheless, we must also qualify that just because we have been faithful to our vocation and responsibilities in life, it does not mean that we are not fearful of the future. Jesus was certainly filled with anguish and fear at the Garden of Gethsemane. So, too, was St Paul, knowing the trials ahead of him! And this is true for all of us in positions of responsibility. By undertaking an office or choosing a path in life, let us not pretend that the journey is going to be smooth. On the contrary, the path will be rocky and at times unbearable. Being a loving and selfless spouse is not easy. So too, being a priest called to be a man totally for others, serving humbly, selflessly with compassion and living a life of purity, obedience and poverty is a tall order.
For this reason, we must never think that we can accomplish the work of God and the responsibilities given to us by our own strength. We need the grace of God and His mercy. St Paul knew that he had to depend totally on the Lord. Jesus prayed to His Father for Himself and for us all. He said, “I pray for them; I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you: all I have is yours and all you have is mine and in them I am glorified.” We must turn to the Lord, for as the psalmist says, “Blessed day by day be the Lord, who bears our burdens; God, who is our salvation. God is a saving God for us; the Lord, my Lord, controls the passageways of death.” When we know that God is on our side, then even when we suffer, we can also say with St Paul, “life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me.”
So let us persevere right to the end. Let us fight the good fight and finish the race so that when we arrive at our death-bed, death need not be met with fear, guilt and regret. How sad to come to the end of our lives and regret that we have not done what we should and could have done! Only those who have given themselves totally and died to themselves in this life for God and their fellowmen, will face death with joy, surrender and liberation, because they know that they did not live in vain and that they will share the glory of God as Jesus did.
Life is short, eternity is forever. So choose your end! Why not consider writing out your own eulogy because the eulogy given to us by others is not the full truth about ourselves. When you leave this world, don’t just be concerned what others will say of you but what you will say of yourself and most of all, what God would say to you! Would you be able to declare before God that you had been the person that God had always intended you to be and that you had lived out your being in your doing so completely that your existence is identified with your existent? As for St Paul, he said, “And so here and now I swear that my conscience is clear as far as all of you are concerned, for I have without faltering put before you the whole of God’s purpose.” Is your conscience as clear as St Paul’s? Are you confident to appear before the judgment seat of God?
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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