Once there was a man named Tom who was much loved by his family and friends; he was a devoted grandfather, a frequent volunteer in his church and community, and a person with many interests and hobbies. Tom greatly enjoyed life, but there was a problem: many years earlier he had somehow reached the conclusion that he would die before his 68th birthday. Early death wasn’t a hereditary trait in his family, and there was no medical reason to expect this; it wasn’t even a premonition, but just an idea that Tom somehow got into his head. When Tom first began talking about this fate while he was still in his fifties, his family found it strange and amusing, but soon the topic became morbid and depressing, especially when Tom’s behavior began changing. In his mid-sixties Tom took an early retirement, made sure his will was up-to-date, and then began trying to squeeze in all his lifelong dreams while he still could, such as visiting the Grand Canyon. As soon as he turned 67, he gave away his golf clubs, stopped driving, and confined himself to bed, even though his doctor had said he was in perfect health. Then, a few weeks before Tom’s dreaded 68th birthday, something happened: his favorite grandson, ten-year-old Jeremy, was hit by a car while riding a bicycle.
The family left Tom at home in bed and rushed to the hospital; a little while later they were shocked when Tom himself walked into the waiting room. He had driven himself there, even though he had let his driver’s license expire a few months earlier. When a doctor came in and said Jeremy was going to be all-right, but would have to stay in the hospital a few weeks, Tom clapped his hands and exclaimed, “I knew we’d make it!” From then on he visited his grandson in the hospital every day, brought him gifts, and sneaked in ice cream. Tom’s 68th birthday came and passed, without Tom even noticing, but the next day, his family surprised him with a cake, balloons, and gifts in Jeremy’s hospital room; Jeremy himself made a card thanking him for still being here for him. Several years later—when Tom was well into his seventies—someone asked him what he had learned from this event. Without hesitation, Tom answered, “Life is for living. Death will just have to take care of itself” (Gerard Fuller, Stories for All Seasons, p. 132). Tom’s expectation of dying before age 68 perhaps could have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy; fortunately, his love for his grandson was stronger than his fear. This is the approach to life God wants us to take. Yes, misfortune is always a possibility, and death is a certainty—but God’s love for us is an infinitely greater reality, and if we base our lives on this wonderful truth, we have no reason to be afraid.
True faith is supposed to give us a proper perspective on life. Many people are too busy having fun, running after money and material things, or trying to make a name for themselves, to give any thought to God and their need to love and obey Him—and when disaster comes, whether on a personal or widespread scale, they will find themselves woefully unprepared in a spiritual sense. However, it’s possible to go the opposite extreme, being obsessed with religion in a fearful and unhealthy way, constantly worrying about the future and living in a spirit of unrealistic fear and anxiety. Jesus acknowledges in the Gospel that at some future point—perhaps in our lifetimes—terrible and disastrous events will occur. However, He insists that even if we find ourselves hated by the world, we need come to no lasting harm; if we persevere in faith, we will be saved. His message echoes the words of reassurance given by the prophet Malachi (3:19-20): when the terrible day of God’s judgment comes, those who honor and obey the Lord will experience it as a day of healing and blessing, for God never disappoints those who trust in Him.
What does this mean for us? Very simply, we should follow the advice St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12) gives: mind our business and fulfill our duties in a spirit of quiet confidence. Yes, it’s always a good idea to take prudent precautions—making sure our wills are up-to-date and that we have adequate insurance, carefully conducting our financial affairs, and perhaps even storing food, water, and other essentials in case of an emergency. Life is unpredictable and sometimes dangerous, making proper values and priorities essential. However, the Lord does not want us to live in fear, for nothing worthwhile is accomplished by such an attitude. The Gospel is a message of Good News, and that’s the sort of message so many people in today’s world desperately need to hear. Our example of hope and trust may attract other people to Jesus, especially in times of crisis—and that’s the sort of example we must give if our love for God is genuine.
A famous mountain climber was once asked his formula for success, and he gave a very simple but profound answer: “Block out all thoughts of falling from your mind, and place your attention on your destination.” This is good advice not only for mountain climbing, but for life itself, and it echoes Our Lord’s teaching in the Gospel (Luke 21:5-19). If eternal life in Heaven is truly our goal, we don’t need to be overly concerned about all that might go wrong here on earth; at the same time, yearning for Heaven and being truly alive in God’s grace allows us to enjoy and appreciate earthly life more than ever. The more we focus on our Heavenly Father’s love for us, the easier it becomes to recognize and rejoice in the many blessings He is already giving us. Jesus offers us grave warnings in the Gospel not to frighten us, but to remind us to place our focus on God, and to desire membership in His Kingdom more than anything else.
Our Lord promises that by our perseverance we will secure our lives—in other words, by remaining His faithful followers, we will reach our goal of eternal joy in Heaven. Loving God and our neighbor, praying every day, coming to Mass every weekend, receiving the sacraments, being truly sorry for our sins, forgiving others in Christ’s Name, and honestly seeking to know and do God’s will, guarantee that our lives will be successful, that fear will not overcome us, and that the Lord’s grace will bring us safely home.