The second reading is from St. Paul; he is talking about death. [To see the words of the second reading, click here.] He is writing to some followers of Jesus who are worried. What is the problem? It is 20 years after Jesus ascended up into heaven; people had a very strong belief that Jesus was coming back soon with power and glory. Then all the followers of Jesus would be brought up with Jesus into heaven, into glorious life. But some of the first followers of Jesus were dying, and people were concerned about them. If they are dead, then Jesus cannot bring them up into heavenly glory. So Paul says to them, “Remember, Jesus died also and then Jesus rose to life. Jesus is not going to forget the people who have died; He is going to raise them up, so that all of us can go up with Jesus into heaven.” Some Protestant groups call it the Rapture. But here we are 2000 years later and still waiting for Jesus to come with power and glory.
We Catholics also believe that Jesus will come in power and glory with all the angels, when? We do not know. But we do know that you and I will meet Christ soon, when? When you and I die. So it is worthwhile for us to think about death. We do not know when we will die. Today, tomorrow, many years in the future, we do not know. Jesus says we must be ready. He tells the story in the Gospel today about the 10 bridesmaids, five wise bridesmaids and five foolish bridesmaids. [To see the words of today’s gospel, click here.] The foolish girls did not bring enough oil to continue waiting for the bridegroom to come when the bridegroom came late. The wise girls had enough oil; they were ready no matter the time that the bridegroom was coming. Jesus says, “You have to be ready also. Pay attention; be ready.” What is Jesus warning us about? The bridegroom means the Lord and the Lord is coming. You and I will meet the Lord. We know we will, when? We do not know, tomorrow, next week, next year, 20 or 30 years in the future, we do not know. But we will meet the Lord when we die. All of us will die. We must be ready.
Sometimes people are worried, afraid. They do not want to meet the Lord face to face. They do not want the Lord to come quickly. They prefer that He stay away; they want to wait to meet the Lord. Why? Some people have the wrong idea about the Lord who is coming. Remember Jesus is the Lord who is coming. What is your idea about Jesus? In the Bible there are many, many different ideas about Jesus. But I would like to remind you about one idea about Jesus, one picture of Jesus I think is very beautiful. It shows us who he is, his personality. It is the picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Imagine the story. The shepherd has a big flock; one sheep wanders off. Why? The sheep is curious, wants to see nice flowers; or maybe he sees some good green grass. He wants to smell the flowers or eat some grass. Maybe the sheep is mischievous and sometimes runs off. When the sheep is finished with the flowers or the grass and looks around, he sees all the flock is gone. Maybe the other sheep went over the hill. Which way did they go? The sheep does not know. Now he feels lost, afraid, worried; what will happen to him? There are wolves nearby; it is dangerous to be alone. What will happen to him? Then he sees the shepherd coming. He thinks will the shepherd be angry with me? punish me? reject me? Then the Good Shepherd takes the sheep in his arms, begins to pet him gently. The shepherd knows the sheep is frightened, so he gently holds the sheep and presses the sheep against his heart. The sheep feels His warm heart beating. The Good Shepherd is Jesus and the sheep is you and me. He looks at you or me and asks, “Why did you run away? Why are you so afraid?” Jesus the Good Shepherd takes us in his arms and says, “I promise to take care of you always, protect you always.” The sheep is you and me. Sometimes we go off; we forget who is most important person in our life. We look for other things to satisfy us, other things to make us happy. We forget that only the Lord will make us happy. When we want to come back to Him, we are afraid He will be angry with us.
What is death? It happens when the Good Shepherd takes us in his arms. Jesus says to us, “Your work is finished. Come now. Rest with me. Feel my heart beating with love for you. Do not worry.” Jesus takes us up in his arms and tells us to set aside all our fears, all our worries, all our concerns. Jesus promises to bring us into the very happy life of heaven. That is my idea about death. Jesus takes us in his arms; the Good Shepherd caring for us, loving us always and bringing us into heaven.
Let me end with a story. There was a man who was very sick; he was close to death. One day a priest came to visit him to give him Holy Communion and the Anointing of the Sick. The priest noticed that there was a chair next to the bed. He asked the man, “Why the chair was there?” The man explained, “I have it there because I imagine that Jesus is sitting in the chair and I talk with him, ask his advice, listen to him; I talk with Jesus in the chair. He is alive with me right now.” A few weeks later the man passed away in the middle of the night. One of his sons came in the room to see him the next morning. He saw the man’s body was leaning on the chair. The son understood that when his father died, his head was resting on Jesus’s lap. Jesus welcomed him into heaven.
That is the idea of death — Jesus the Good Shepherd lets us rest in his arms and carries us into new life with him always, a perfectly happy, wonderful life in heaven.