As most all of you are aware by now, my dear mother, Joyce, passed away on the very last day of 2017, the feast of the Holy Family. I guess she wanted to begin the New Year in a better place! I want to begin by expressing to all of you my profound and heartfelt gratitude for your beautiful expressions of sympathy. My family and I truly were overwhelmed by the hundreds of cards and letters we received, all promising prayers for her and for us who mourn her loss. The expressions of your love and concern continue to help sustain us in our grief.

I also want you all to know that my mother’s passing from this life was truly a holy death. What do I mean by this? Surrounded by her family, my mom received all of the sacraments of the Church intended for those who are dying. As her son, but also as a priest, I was able to absolve her from all her sins, give her viaticum (her last holy Communion), grant her the apostolic pardon, and pray the Church’s beautiful prayers of final commendation to the Lord. My sister even said, “I hope you are there to do this for me when my time comes!”

It is part of our rich Catholic tradition to pray to God that we be delivered from an “unprovided death.” This means that we pray that we will not experience an unexpected death for which we are not prepared. We all desire to be found in a state of grace — of friendship and communion with God — when the time comes to pass from this world to meet our Savior, the just and merciful Judge of the living and the dead. It is a great consolation to me that both my mother and father were prepared to meet the Lord.

This all has become a source of meditation for me as we journey through this Lenten season of grace. I do not think in any way that this is somehow morbid or a negative view of things. Lent is a time when we reflect on our own mortality and the fact that our life in this world is really very brief compared to the eternity that awaits us. On Ash Wednesday, as the ashes are imposed on us, we hear the ancient admonition, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It is a salutary thing to meditate on what we traditionally call the “Four Last Things”: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Another colloquial way we say this (with some humor) is that “the only things we can be sure of are death and taxes,” or “no one gets out of this world alive.”

The fact is, we are all going to die someday. So let us be prepared. Lent is a time Holy Mother Church gives us each year to reflect on these things, take stock of our spiritual health, and correct where we have perhaps gone a little off track. We do this accompanied by the three pillars of our Lenten observance — prayer, penance and works of mercy to those in need.

But we reflect on these things also profoundly aware of the mercy and love that God has poured out on us in his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. During Lent we prepare ourselves to celebrate the paschal mystery (the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus) with our minds and our hearts renewed. We have no reason to despair, for we have been saved from sin and death by Jesus Christ. We need not fear death if we walk with him.

My heartfelt wish for all of you is that this Lent will be filled with grace and light, leading you to a deeper love of God and our neighbor. It will be an especially fruitful Lent if we celebrate the great sacrament of mercy, the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. By confessing our sins and receiving absolution from Christ through the Church, we will guard against an “unprovided death.”