As people filled the pews in the church, the pianist played Here I am Lord. What a fitting song for Walt’s funeral. Just over 4 months ago, I had never met Walt. Now my wife and I were attending his funeral. I know Walt would want you to read this story. His death has an important message for us all. Please continue to read.
In July of 2019, my phone rang. When I answered, Walt was on the other end of the line. He introduced himself. He told me how much he enjoyed reading my 4th Day Letters and he expressed an interest in having me put on a retreat at his parish. Plans for a retreat were made for March 2020 but Covid promptly ended those plans. Eventually in October 2021, the retreat was held. Walt was a gracious host. He did a great job of laying the groundwork for a well-attended, successful retreat. It was a joyous day.
Now, here I was back at Walt’s parish, 3 hours from my home, for a much different celebration. Today, we were gathered to celebrate Walt’s life and his passing to be with our Lord.
In his homily, the celebrant had many stories to tell about Walt. It was evident that he knew him well. He told us that although it was a Friday in Lent, this day was Walt’s Easter. Today, he was with the Risen Lord.
We were told that Walt lived out the beatitudes. He was well known and well liked. He was constantly giving back to others in need. He was always welcoming to those he met. He had a deep respect for life. He brought food to those in need. He loved the Lord and he freely shared his faith. He lived out what it what it means to be Christian.
The priest recounted the story of rushing to the hospital to anoint Walt just before he died. Finally, he reminded all those gathered in grief, that the Gospel assures us that the sting of death is swallowed up in victory through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Walt had lived a life firmly rooted in his belief and trust in this glorious assurance.
Why is Walt’s story important to you? I chose to share it with you because his death came just days before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. For years on Ash Wednesday, Catholics heard these words as ashes were placed on their forehead, “Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” In more recent years they also heard, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Ash Wednesday has always stood as a stark reminder of our human mortality. It is a clarion call to repent and to believe in Jesus Christ. It is a summons to reflect on our life and to live in a more Christ-like way. It is a blunt reminder that the clock of life is always ticking. None of us knows the day, nor the hour, when it will suddenly stop.
Lent is a time of preparation before Easter. It is a time to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. This Easter, Walt will be with our Lord. He was ready! Are we ready if God calls us home today?
Several years ago, I, along with a few of my children, had the opportunity to be involved in our local community theater. Having been an actor, I can assure you that the time for preparation was over when the curtain rose on opening night. Prior to the first performance we had lots of practice. There was always a full-blown dress rehearsal before the opening show. It was during this time of preparation, that each actor honed their lines and perfected their timing. It was here that they hoped to rid themselves of mistakes. It was here that they tried to overcome any last-minute jitters.
Life, on the other hand, has no dress rehearsals. We only get one try at it. There are no do-overs. None of us knows when the curtain will come down on our final performance. Death is certain, and when it comes we need to be prepared to meet our Savior.
The atrocities and senseless killings in Ukraine this past week seem to have shaken the entire world out of its slumber. The fragility of life was on display. The streets were running with blood. A tyrant had his twitching finger on the nuclear button, and he seemed more than willing to push it if backed into a corner. Thousands of innocent people have already died as a result of this one man.
It shouldn’t take war to remind us that death is lurking around the corner. All of us have lost someone dear to us. Hopefully they were ready. My friend Walt was ready for his day of departure. Are you and I ready?
I didn’t know Walt long, but he left a lasting impression on me. I am blessed to know that Walt found my writings to be a helpful source of inspiration. He told me that every week he shared them with his email list. Walt wanted everyone to be prepared, and he wanted everyone to have an unshakable love for Jesus.
Let’s make good use of this time of preparation to reflect and to reorient ourselves to God. Last week, I wrote about falling in love with God all over again. Life has no dress rehearsal! We must be ready.
Heavenly Father, please grant comfort and peace to everyone grieving the loss of a friend or loved one. Reassure us with the hope of eternal life. Bring an end to the war in Ukraine. And help us to be ready for the day you call us home. Amen!
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