On Friday, Feb. 28, 900 people of various ages, backgrounds and faiths crowded into the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to attend the funeral Mass of a young man named Ben LaMontagne, who passed away unexpectedly at age 18.

It was not only the largest crowd for a funeral that I have experienced in my five years as cathedral rector, but there were more people in attendance at Ben’s funeral than there have been at any cathedral event in the last five years or more.

And as extraordinary as this might sound, most of those 900 people were there because they had come to know Ben personally and had shared in his life. He was an extraordinary kid by any measure, and his interests and pursuits eclectic to say the least. Ben was a gifted and accomplished musician, a lobster boat apprentice, a discriminating connoisseur of tea, an athlete and outdoor enthusiast who also enjoyed knitting, and a deeply spiritual and reflective young man who took his Catholic faith and journaling to heart. But what most of those 900 people remembered about Ben was his simple kindness and positive outlook on life. And while the loss of one so young might fill us with deep regret for all that he might have accomplished in his adult life, I couldn’t help but marvel at the profound effect one person could have on the lives of so many others in such a short time. What I took away from Ben’s funeral Mass was a renewed realization that what really matters is not how many years we live, but how much living we put into the precious few years that we are given.

Whether our life span is 18 years or 101, life is still short, and we need to have the courage to recognize that everything we do in this life really counts. Every night when we go to bed, we die. We die to all the lost opportunities that we failed to act upon that day. And every morning we wake up to new life filled with graced promises and possibilities. While most of us look with faith and hope to the promise of heaven, we need to keep in mind that eternal life begins in this life. And I think that if Ben could leave his Cheverus High School peers, and perhaps all of us regardless of our age, with a message, I think it would be something like this: “Stop preparing for life, and start living life.”

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy once said that the finest tribute we can possibly give to a deceased loved one is to live our own lives as fully as possible. With that in mind, perhaps we might ponder these questions. If I had one last message to leave my closest friends and family members, what might it be in 25 words or less? What has been, to date, the greatest accomplishment of my life, and what is the one thing I have done that I most wish I could undo? Is there anything or anyone in my life for which I would be willing to lay down my life? If I knew that tomorrow would be the last day of my life, what would I plan to do with it? And then ask yourself, “Why not live that way every day?”

Let’s face it, tomorrow is in God’s hands. And so is yesterday. All that belongs to us is today.

We will miss you, Ben. Keep us in your prayers.

The Rev. Louis Phillips is rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. He can be contacted at:

Louis.Phillips@portlanddiocese.org