Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, bishop
(Wisdom 13:1-9; Luke 17:26-37)
“Don’t ask for whom the bells toll, it tolls for thee,” writes poet-priest John Donne. Of course, the bells he has in mind are the death toll. Although many people prefer to put off thinking about it, the hour of life’s end is always approaching. For those with sixty years behind them, it will surely be sooner rather than later.
Jesus makes the same point in the gospel today. With an image that might chill a polar bear, he warns, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.” He means that death is part of life because we have bodies which will one day be the food of worms if not birds. So, Jesus admonishes, humans should prepare for the inevitable.
Jesus’ injunction to deal with mortality deserves more than passing attention. Although it is certainly legitimate to stave off death through healthy living and medical practice, we need to give ourselves over to death in a sense by self-denial. Jesus himself is our primary example. He took up his cross not just in Jerusalem but throughout his public ministry. St. Martin of Tours serves as another model. He gave up a military career to follow Christ, and when he became a bishop, worked tirelessly to administer his diocese as efficiently and effectively as possible. We follow by living for others not for ourselves, by performing periodic penitential acts, and by praying constantly.