A musician, who taught many students how to play the piano, when it came to public recitals, would have them practice the conclusion over and over again. Many found the repetition of these last measures of music excessive. However when someone would voice his complaints, the wise teacher would always answer, “You can make a mistake in the beginning or you can make a mistake in the middle. The people will forget it if you make the ending glorious!”
This is also true in life. What counts in life is how we end it. Because after the end, there is eternity. And eternity is for ever and ever. And so it is wise to prepare ourselves well for it. One of the classical books of spirituality that unfortunately have fallen in disuse, written by the saint Alphonse of Liguori, was called ‘Preparation for a Happy Death’. Worth recovering it from the dust of oblivion.
One day a court jester said something so foolish that the king handed him a staff and told him, “Take this and keep it until you find a bigger fool than yourself.”
Some years later the king was dying. “I am about to leave you,” he told his family and friends gathered around him. “I am going on a very long journey, and I shall not return to this place…” At this, the jester stepped forward and asking permission to speak, remarked, “Your Majesty, may I ask you a question? When you journeyed abroad visiting your people, staying with your nobles or paying diplomatic visits to other kingdoms, your heralds and servants always went before you making arrangements for you. May I ask what preparations your Majesty has made for this journey you are about to take?” “Alas!” he answered, “I have made no preparation.” “Then,” the jester said, “take this staff with you, for now I have found a bigger fool than myself!”
This is precisely what Jesus Christ calls anyone who stores up things for himself and is not rich towards God – ‘fool’. He says this immediately after having recounted the Parable of the Rich Fool. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
A young student came to Saint Philip Neri one day and told him he was to study law. “What a happy man I will be! I am going to study and become a learned man.” “And then what?” asked Philip. “Then I shall become a great lawyer and win fame.” “And then what?” “Then I shall become very rich and build a beautiful home for myself.” “And then what?” “Then I shall marry and live in comfort to a ripe old age.” “Then what?” “Hmm! I don’t know. Then I suppose I shall die.” “And then what?”
Yes, then what?!
“Great secret of death!” wrote Saint Alphonse in the book mentioned above. “It makes us see what the lovers of this world do not see. The princeliest fortunes, the most exalted dignities, and the most superb triumphs lose their entire splendor when viewed from the bed of death.”
It is the vision that we have embedded in our mind that determines our whole attitude in life. If we have heaven as our vision, then what the Pope Saint Gregory the Great wrote, way back in 590 makes a lot of sense even to us today. “No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast. Anyone who is determined to reach his destination (heaven) is not deterred by the roughness of the road that leads to it. Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like a foolish traveler who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going.”
Let us press ahead!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.