Homily: The Consolation We Believe In

A668Departed_1_cf03_4cToday theme is unusual in that the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist focuses on the mystery of Christ’s resurrection through a very special lens indeed: On this All Souls’ Day we remember the dead. Not the saints—that was yesterday—but the dead.

The Church’s commemoration of All Souls’ Day has been shaped over the centuries by words and symbols which help us to face the pain and difficulty of an encounter with death with great hope. The readings today play a beautiful role in this process, presenting to us some inspiring words to strengthen us when we are troubled by the thought of death, and to give us a sense of peace and even joy.

The Book of Wisdom reminds us that ultimately the souls of all the departed “are in the hands of God”. These words allow God the freedom to do what only God can do: to heal, to teach, and to judge in a manner that is characterized by perfect justice and perfect mercy at the same time. Heaven on God’s terms, not ours.

Next, St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that upon the death of a loved one we ought to call to mind and take comfort in their baptism, remembering that as surely as that loved one has now shared with Jesus in death (symbolized by immersion into the water of the baptismal font), he or she now abides in the hope of sharing with Jesus in his new and eternal life.

John’s gospel has the final word on All Souls’ Day, speaking to us as it does about God’s will to bring all his children to salvation through Christ. Jesus himself confirms not only the Father’s will but announces his own desire to see the will of the Father brought to completion: “I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me”.

This Sunday we commemorate those who we Catholics have come to acknowledge by the awkward but consoling title of the Faithful Departed. In doing so, can see it as an opportunity to grow in trust in the Lord, recalling that our hope for the resurrection from the dead of a Loved One comes not through their own merit or through our desires for them but through the mystery of Christ who experienced death himself in order that we ALL might have new and eternal life in Him. He said: “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day”.  (Edward Mazich, O.S.B.)

For many years, I have loved the days of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls. This trinity of days from October 31-November 2 is a sacred space in the turning of the year—what Celtic folk have long called a ‘thin place’, where past, present, and future intertwine, and the veil between worlds becomes permeable. I learned long ago that it’s important to pay attention to what happens in these days. Mostly what happens is that the days offer a window onto my life—a perspective that, however subtly how I see my path shifts. But sometimes these days offer a doorway, a new threshold that changes everything.

As we approach this All Souls Day, we press our ear to that door. In the depth of what may be our griefs and our sorrows, we are learning that we still have thresholds to cross; that mystery and wonder abide in many things in life, drawing us more and more deeply into the love that has little regard for matters such as death and time.

In the early days of grieving, sometimes when we were first beginning to reckon with the dying of someone very close to us and we are grappling with the memories of friendships and love that has kept making itself known in new and sometimes ways filled with “if only” resentment. We look for a road map. Jan Richardson, a protestant minister who lost her husband to death this past year, in a poem to others who feel the pain of grief wrote this poem: May your Faith be more fierce than your grief, more enduring than your tears. May your memory of them not let you remain numb. Neither would those you remember allow you to languish forever in your grief.

They will safeguard your sorrow but will not permit that it should become your new country, your home. They knew you first in joy, in delight, and though they will be patient when you travel by other roads, it is here that they will wait for you, here they can best be found. where the river runs deep with gladness, the water over each stone singing your unforgotten name. (Jan Richardson)

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