“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
Today's gospel reading is the last of the recommended readings for "The Commendation of the Dying." Though it appears last, because it is placed just ahead of the Litany of the Saints, it might be the most recommended. I use it often when I read the Commendation to the dying Veteran and his family.
Hopefully, this advice comes at the end of a life of practiced faith. The Church might be saying to the dying person: "You have trusted God and his Son Jesus all your life, through many difficult passages. Trust him now as he takes you to himself."
Dying is the great mystery of our human life. Philosophers remind us we cannot really imagine being dead. We can imagine an afterlife; and it's fun to speculate about heaven as a lovely garden or a city of gold. But ordinary experience tells us we cannot actually foresee any future, much less a future resurrection. We should do the preliminary preparations for death: a will, life insurance, grave site, etc. It's good to recruit a power of attorney, complete an advanced directive and to scout out nursing homes, just in case. But we cannot plan to die; we can only plan to live.
So when we hear the gospel, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me..." we hear advice on how to live and how to die. The urgency is immediate; putting it off till later is planning to die miserably.
I'm sure someone must have tallied the many times "Do not be afraid" and its variations appear in the Old and New Testaments. But no one could estimate how many times the church-going Christian hears it. A friend once reminded me of Mary's immediate response when the Angel Gabriel said, "Do not be afraid, Mary!" The Virgin replied, "Okay!" The young woman was already well-practiced in trust. She had a question, "How can this happen...?" but no hesitation: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me...."
There are, as Hamlet observed, "a thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to." We have ample opportunities to practice our faith as we go about our daily lives. Worrisome creatures that we are, we can always find something to fret about. We can easily make ourselves tiresome to friends and family with innumerable anxieties. And when they say, "Don't worry about it!" we pull the troubles even closer to our hearts!
Every time we make a sacrifice, do a generous act, overlook a slight, or go the extra mile we die to ourselves. It's good practice! We're told repeatedly, Do not be afraid to give more, trust more, believe more. We're preparing for the Final Exam and we know from experience, it's going to be a challenge.