Don was only in his early 40’s when he experienced a brush with death that would change his life forever.
When summer had ended, Don noticed himself feeling more fatigued and run down than usual. He barely had energy to get through the day at work. At first he chalked it up to getting older and tried to fight his way through it. However, when one morning he could not get himself out of bed, he knew that something more was going on.
His doctor sent him to have some blood work done as part of a total physical examination. When the results came back, the doctor called him and told him to go immediately to the emergency department. The tests revealed that he had contracted a rare virus that is usually transmitted by a mosquito bite. Within just two days he was in a coma and close to kidney failure.
Luckily, a specialist was contacted in time to help reverse the effects of the virus and bring Don out of the coma. However, it rattled him to learn how close to death he was. He spent his life always thinking he had plenty of time to realize all his hopes and dreams for the future. He took it for granted that he would live many more years. Now it became clear to him that the future is not promised to us and that the present is a gift to be treasured and taken advantage of.
Feeling that he has been given a second chance, Don tries to seize each day and relish every opportunity as a special blessing. He makes the time to spend with his family and plans more vacation time than he had allowed himself before. The petty problems that used to occupy his mind and fill him with anxiety no longer bother him. He lives with a fresh perspective on the beauty of creation and the gift his existence is.
Most especially, Don’s experience rekindled his faith and his relationship with God. The experience of his mortality showed him just how unprepared he was to meet his Creator. The words of today’s gospel became very real to him: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” After he awoke from his coma, he asked to see a priest so that he could confess his sins. It had been so long that he could not even remember the prayers, but he knew he could not put it off any longer. He knew that the first step he needed to take to reform his life was to get right with God.
Since then, Don has been attending Mass and praying daily. He looked for ways to get involved in his parish and share his story especially with young people. Knowing the joy and peace that comes with a deep, personal relationship with God, he wonders why he ever waited so long to turn to the Lord and why it took something as drastic as a life-threatening illness to wake him up. Most especially, he wants others to learn from his experience not to take their lives for granted but to savor every moment as a gift from God.
Don’s experience can resonate with each one of us. How many of us have been missing out on all that life has to offer us because we have been taking it all for granted? How many of us have been putting off deepening our relationship with the Lord because we think we have plenty of time? How many of us have failed to grasp the grace in every moment of our existence because we have been too preoccupied with things that do not matter?
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul urges us to snap out of it and wake up to all that God is offering us - “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to wake from sleep.” Tomorrow is not promised to us. We do not know how much time we have. Today is the day to make a decision to live for our Lord. We cannot put it off any longer.
At this Mass we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. It marks the beginning of our four week preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas day. As the days grow shorter and the night gets darker, it is a time for us to reflect on the shortness of our existence. None of us is adding any days to his or her life. We are coming closer to the day when we will stand before our Creator and give an account of how we used the time He allotted for us. These weeks offer us the opportunity to examine our conscience, to see where we need to make a change and to commit ourselves to seeking God’s forgiveness and the grace to make amends. Let us seize this opportunity! For some of us, this could possibly be our last Christmas. Let us no longer take for granted God’s gifts including our families and loved ones and put our energies toward the things that really matter.
If we do make those changes, I suspect that we will have the same reaction Don did and wonder why we waited so long to finally enjoy all the gifts that God has given us.