Sensing Our Own Mortality

 

George Washington had premonitions. He may not have knelt in fervent prayer as was depicted by an artist in a snowy wood at Valley Forge (although there was an eye witness), but he definitely prayed (and not just to the American Congress) for both the success of our revolutionary efforts and the establishment of an American republic. He also knew that the Almighty had spared his life in order to fulfill his destiny, and, ultimately, ours. Certainly, Abraham Lincoln prayed and had premonitions, too. His dreams possibly foretold both the great battles yet to be fought in the American Civil War and his own desire of passing the Thirteenth Amendment to our Constitution forever ending the evil of slavery upon our shores. Eerily, no – prophetically, he wrote about his own assassination, just three days before it happened.

This season of Lent compels us to think about what lies ahead. Not in a morbid sense, where we surrender to the commonality of death, but in the victory promised to us by Our Savior when He conquered it. And, dreams play an important part in this.

The Emperor Constantine dreamed of the cross before the great Battle of Milvian Bridge against his imperial rival Maxentius. The bridge was a strategic gateway into the city of Rome. The control of the Western Roman Empire hung in the balance. Legend holds that he actually saw the cross in the sky with these words: “In Hoc Signo Vinces” (In this sign conquer). He immediately ordered his legions to paint the cross upon their standard and their shields, replacing the all-powerful Roman Eagle as the symbol of the empire. Yet, dreams are only one way, I think, when that thin curtain draws open and reveals to us the possible, perhaps the probable; maybe even the inevitable.

 

A Morning Message

Lately, and only just lately, I’ve been thinking about my own demise. And certainly, I’m not the only one who has done this. Not because I have a terminal disease or anything like that; but because, every now and then, and usually when I wake up in the morning, it occurs to me, out of the blue, that these times might be my last and I’d better make something out of my day. It’s not a visual revelation or an interior locution. It’s just an idea. But an extraordinary idea. It’s hard to explain something that just pops into your mind like this, but I can tell you it’s very comforting, consoling, and peaceful. I think this might be natural for people to experience as they get older, or at least it should be. It’s not a bugle call for action; there are no bells and whistles, no trumpets ordering men to the breech on an all-out assault. No, I simply feel that it is, and should be, a gentle wake-up call.

 

Clarion Calls

Yet, for others, throughout history, a non-dream, direct-connect, trumpet blaring blast from heaven has been more urgent. More like a 911 call to emergency services answered and responded to in our own day. Take Pope Pius V and his desperate prayers begging for assistance when Christendom was threatened by the powers of Islam in October, 1571. All Europe would have certainly changed, including our religion, our sciences, our arts and music, our industry and economy, if not for the direct intervention from heaven through the divine auspices of the rosary. Pius V acted on the voice he heard and proclaimed it throughout the western world pleading with Mother Mary to intercede. Outnumbered and with little chance of success, the Holy League Armada won a decisive victory at the Battle of Lepanto, thereby saving western civilization. Thanks only to the timely intercession of the Mother of God.

 

Scales of Justice

When we are blessed with ashes on the first day of Lent, we’re told, or at least we were told, that we are but dust.

A firm and unequivocal declaration, most certainly a warning, indeed a tenet of our faith. It puts us in our place. It makes us recognize our tenure on earth is given as a gift, but will not last very long because our eternal destiny lies elsewhere. And it forces us to acknowledge that our time is limited, valuable, precious, and accounted for. After all, there’s always an audit on the balance sheet of life. Both the seasons of Advent and Lent should remind us of this.

Yet, thankfully, the eternal Judge is just. He provides mercy for the souls of the children in the womb who never saw the light of day because of abortion or miscarriage, but certainly have seen the light of heaven, baptized, as they truly are, by the blood of the lamb; because the errant theological construct of Limbo is as dead as Julius Caesar and always should have been. The innocents who were slaughtered by King Herod proved that beyond a doubt. How could they ever have been denied a crown of glory when they, white-robed and pure as they were, presented their beautiful souls before the throne of the Almighty?

The Lord God also takes into consideration our own circumstances. Our particular station in life. The choices we’ve faced and the decisions we’ve made. The eye of the needle indeed appears smaller to those of us who are given great wealth and great responsibility. Much is to be expected of them. And, sometimes the largess of good fortune and blessings weighs deeply in their bosom. It does for all us who are blessed with freedom, because, this too, is a unique gift, singular among nations since the onset of creation. It awakes in us a clear and unmistaken obligation. Especially when the dawn breaks and we hear in our hearts the call of duty. For some this wake-up call is more intense than for others.

 

Flight 93

Thomas Burnett was a successful corporate executive, loving husband and father, who intuitively sensed his own death in the months leading up to September, 11, 2001. He knew it involved an airplane; he knew it had something to do with the White House. In our lifetime, perhaps no other individual has demonstrated such zeal for life, yet such an acceptance of death all at the same time. His wife, Deena, also had this extraordinary gift. Both Thomas and Deena had premonitions about each other’s death. They both knew that one or the other would not survive to raise their children. It was as if God was letting them know before hand and preparing them so that one or the other would be comforted afterward.

Here’s a small part of the interview with Deena by author Michael H. Brown (http://www.spiritdaily.net/burnett.htm): “I was surprised because I never talked to him about it. I asked him why he thought that and he said, ‘I don’t know, but it may have something to do with God’s plan for me. I’m not sure why I think that. But I need you to tell me what you think.’

I just shared with him. I said, ‘Well, I just always believed that we were not going to grow old together, that something was going to happen to prevent us from growing old together. One of us is going to be killed.”

And, so, on that fateful day, the crew and passengers of Flight 93 perished over or on the fertile fields of Pennsylvania, giving their lives for others, all fulfilling a destiny written in the Book of Life from the beginning of time.

 

Game On

We should all take to heart the ashes placed upon our foreheads at the beginning of Lent. We need not focus on death in particular but on a finish line at the end of the race. “Death comes to us all, my lords,” St. Thomas More advised Parliament before his own sentence to the block. “Even for kings he comes.”

That is a persuasive and powerful reminder that we are merely human after all in spite of what we think of ourselves. We might be rich and famous, perhaps we could be running for president.

St. Paul puts it this way:

“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the same race but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus, I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).”

This is sound reasoning.

This lent, we need to bring our best game into the arena. If we’re going to go toe-to-toe with the devil, then let’s use our bare knuckles. Sometimes we need to take the gloves off. Let’s mean what we say and say what we mean with a devout and earnest heart. One that can never be disqualified. One that hears the gentle rustling of the wind upon the leaves at dawn and the soft wake-up call of the birds nesting in the trees preparing for our coming spring.

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