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My brothers and sisters, imagine running in a race and not knowing how long the course is or where the finish line will be. How would you know when to speed up and make your move or when to slow down to conserve your energy? How could you compete well without knowing what you needed to do to reach the finish line successfully? In today’s second reading, St. Paul exhorts Timothy to compete well for the faith and to lay hold of eternal life — which we all hope to do at the hour of our death. He exhorts him to become a man of God who pursues the virtues of “righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” In life, Paul reminds us, we always have to keep the end in mind.

St. Thomas More is an example of a Christian who always kept the end in mind. In fact, he would half-jokingly suggest that he simply wanted two Latin words on his tombstone: Memento Mori. This simply means “remember death”; but for More, who always enjoyed a good pun, this phrase, Memento Mori, could also be rendered as “remember More.” This, however, was much more than a joke for More. The great renaissance saint actually reflected and wrote quite a bit on the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. In More’s thought, keeping death and what follows clearly in one’s mind helps a person to make good judgments and to live a good life. More would often encourage his children to seek virtue and to realize that life — especially the spiritual life — was a constant struggle. He would tell them that “we will not get to heaven in a feather bed.” Contrast that with today’s first reading from Amos who castigates those who have eschewed any spiritual struggle:

“Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches.”

Is this not a great temptation for us today? Too often, we can place a premium on our comfort, of not wanting to be bothered by the demands of conscience or virtue that might take us out of our comfort zones. We see this all too well in today’s Gospel in the story of Lazarus and the rich man who dined sumptuously each day. I think that we can all agree that the rich man did not keep death and the last things in mind as he ignored Lazarus wasting away just outside his front door. Lazarus, we might imagine, however, had probably awaited death for some time so that when death finally came, he might have greeted him as an old friend and gladly left with him to rest at the bosom of Abraham.

How, then, does keeping death and the last things clearly in mind change what we do or refrain from doing? First and foremost, it helps us to see all the circumstances of my life in relation to what God wants me to do. Every blessing from God becomes an opportunity to share with others our good fortune. Every tragedy becomes an opportunity to thank God for what He has given us — and even for what he has deprived us; to renew in our hearts our trust in God and to praise his great providence. Such an attitude was well displayed by Thomas More when, in a letter to his wife, he responded to a tragedy that had just occurred on his estate. A fire had consumed all the corn stored in their barns and had actually spread to affect the barns of some neighbors. More instructs his wife and household on how they should respond. I will now share an excerpt from that letter. Notice how his concern is how they should respond to this loss in virtue, with praise and thanksgiving for God’s goodness:

“[God] sent us all that we have lost, and since he has by such a chance taken it away again, his pleasure be fulfilled; let us never grudge at it, but take it in good worth, and heartily thank him as well for adversity as for prosperity. And perhaps we have more cause to thank him for our loss than for our winning, for his wisdom better sees what is good for us than we do ourselves. Therefore, I pray you, be of good cheer and take all the household with you to church; and there thank God both for what he has given us, and for what he has taken from us, and for what he has left us, which if it please him, he can increase when he will, and if it please him to leave us yet less, at his pleasure so be it.”

Now, More turns his concern in the letter to how his neighbors have been injured: “I pray you to make some good inquiry into what my poor neighbors have lost, and bid them take no thought of it for, even if I should not leave myself a spoon, there shall be no poor neighbor of mine who bears any loss because of an accident that happened in my house.”

St. Thomas More clearly kept the end in mind. Though a wealthy and powerful minister of the King, he would rather choose to be destitute than to have a neighbor go without. Today, five hundred years after a life well lived and a martyrdom freely embraced, he is still remembered as a man of God — a man for all seasons. My brothers and sisters, More competed well and completed his race as a champion. Let us all benefit from his example so that we too may win an imperishable crown of glory.