by Fr. Pat McNulty.
Sometimes you ask the dumbest things, Reverend: Who knows what the last words outta their mouth before they die are gonna be? I could be at a hockey game or at the mall and be sayin’ and thinkin’ all sorts of silly things when I die.
OK. Let’s change the question. What was the last thing you remember saying or thinking before you fell asleep last night?
Oh, come on!
No. Just give it a try: what was the last thing you remember saying or thinking before you fell asleep last night?
I don’t know. Probably something like, "I gotta remember to pay the phone bill tomorrow." ZZZzzzzzzzz.
All right. Now, how would you like to wake up face-to-face with God and the first thing out of your mouth was, "Oh, did I pay the phone bill?"
I don’t believe you: you think that has anything to do with how we die?
Maybe not "how we die," but I am saying that the last thing out of our mouths or on our minds Here could have a great bearing on our first moment There, and perhaps we ought to think a little bit more about it while we still "have time."
And P.S., the Holy Spirit already has. In fact, the Spirit has provided some wonderful "last-word scenarios" for anybody who is interested.
Well, when you preachers lay that "Holy Spirit thing" on us, we really don’t have any choice but to listen, do we? So…..
I wouldn’t say that what I’m thinking is "from the Holy Spirit," but it’s often in the back of my mind and every now and then makes its way up front and out onto the printed page in one form or other: it’s like last time when we talked about looking into the mirror and repeating the name of Jesus.
No, not the last time "we talked," the last time "you talked," Reverend. I don’t think the way you do, and I wouldn’t write the way you do. Sometimes I’m surprised you’re still in print!
Oh, how blessed am I that not everyone thinks the way you do! Ho, hum.
In any case, the thought came up again when I read the Scripture for November 4th, the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time—Mark 12:28-34 , about the greatest commandment.
There in Mark’s Gospel is that powerful prayer from Deuteronomy (6:4-9, 11:13–21) which every Observant Jew knows by heart:
Shema Yisrael!…. Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength… and your neighbour as yourself.
From my years living in Jerusalem, I remember that observant Jews inscribe them on a parchment together with the word "Shadai" and enclose them on the doorpost of their home.*
This Jewish sense of the anointed power of biblical words has followed us into our own Christian tradition as well.
I don’t know if you are old enough to remember, but there was a time when almost every Catholic home had little fonts of holy water in doorways all over the house, so that as we came and went we would "sign" ourselves with the holy words from Scripture by which we live, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
P.S. They were often the last words out of our mouths before we went to sleep at night and the first when we awoke every morning. And so we very much believed that such things profoundly affected what would be going on in our minds and hearts when we breathed our last, no matter when or where.
Well, personally, I think it’s gonna take a lot more than that to be ready to die when our time comes.
Indeed, but notice what Jesus says in Mark’s gospel to the man for whom the Shema was at the center of his life, You are not far from the Kingdom of God (Mk 12:34).
I think that if we take time frequently throughout the day to specifically re-focus our minds and hearts on what we truly believe, we too would "hear" such daily blessings from Jesus especially in our last breath.
Well, like I said, Reverend, who knows what the last words out of their mouth are gonna be?
Yes, and like I said, the Holy Spirit has already given us many a blessed "last word scenario" to prepare ourselves for that profound moment.
So, after this gospel meditation, I, for one, will revive such a blessing long-since forgotten: as of today I will have a small holy water font at the entrance of my poustinia.
So every time I come and go, I will mark myself with those biblical words "all wrapped up" in water reminiscent of my own baptismal journey.
That sounds like a nice way to start your day.
Myself? I prefer to think of it as a nice way to end my life.
* The parchment (scroll) contains the passages from Deut 6:4–9 and 11:13–21, Shema Yisrael, on one side and on the other the word Shaddai, a name applied to God.
The scroll is called a "mezuzah," Hebrew for "doorpost." It is inserted in a small case or tube so that Shaddai is visible through a tiny opening in front.
The tube is often attached to the doorpost of the home. Observant Jews recite the prayer twice-daily, teach their children to say it before they go to sleep at night, and it is traditional for them to say it as their last words
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