When someone dies, our secular culture encourages us to foster, cherish and honour memories of the deceased. We remember our deceased by sharing stories about them and their lives, hanging pictures on the wall, or putting a stone on their grave.
All these actions are good and meaningful. However, from a Christian perspective, if this is all we do, there is something missing. The believer in Jesus Christ ought to go one step further – to introduce a faith dimension within these acts of remembrance. Here is what our faith offers us: although we feel helpless in the face of death, the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that we are not hopeless.
The essential truth of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is risen from the tomb. Jesus Christ has triumphed over death. God loves us so much that he holds nothing back – he gives us everything, including a share in Jesus’ victory over death. The tomb was not the end of Jesus’ story; it is not the end of our story either.
The good news of the Gospel is that, since Calvary, death no longer has the last word. The last word is life. The last word is that God did not make us for darkness and death, but rather, that we should live and come closer to him. This beautiful truth is stated in the 2nd Reading: “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ”. Herein lies our hope.
Whether we write the names of our deceased loved ones in a Book of Remembrance, or whether we participate in a Memorial Candle Lighting Ceremony as we are going to do in a few moments, let us commend our deceased loved ones into the hands of God.
We ought to pray that God, who is in control, who is stronger and more powerful than death, may bring our deceased loved ones to their eternal home in heaven. Our modern culture says: “You live in my memory”. Our faith says: “You are still alive and you will live forever.”
The core of our existence is that we are children of God. As the beloved sons and daughters of God, our deceased loves ones are still alive; they are with God now, and forever there they will remain.
Furthermore, our faith guarantees us of an even more wonderful truth. We believe that we are still in communion with our deceased. What this means in practical terms is that the love relationships we have cultivated cannot be destroyed by death. In spite of the physical separation caused by death, the relationships with our beloved dead as parent, grandparent, sibling, child, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, cousin and good friend continue to exist. This is the Christian doctrine of the Communion of the Saints.
The key message is that the bonds of affection and intimacy which we established in this life continue to develop. Although our loved ones have left us, they are not absent. It is still possible to experience our loved ones’ presence, and their kindness, gentleness and compassion now, just as we did when they were on this earth.
Therefore, let’s not only pray for our deceased loved ones. With confidence, we can pray to them. Their love, care and support can still assist us as it did on earth. Just as we ask friends here on earth for their prayers, it makes perfect sense to ask our deceased loved ones to intercede for us before God. Their love is still there to help us.
What happens if my relationship with the deceased was a challenging one, a broken one or one marred by conflict? I can entrust it to the Lord and let him take care of that. What happens if I need to forgive a deceased loved one? Since there is communication between us and those who have died before us, I can do it now. What happens if I need to be forgiven by a deceased loved one? With the help of the Risen Lord, I can open my heart to that forgiveness today. What happens if I didn’t say “I love you” enough to a deceased loved one? It’s not too late! Since it is possible to talk to those who have died, I can say it this afternoon during this Mass, particularly during the Eucharistic Prayer when we pray for the dead.
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser puts it this way: “There is still time after death, on both sides, for reconciliation and healing to happen because inside the communion of saints we have privileged access to each other, and there we can finally speak all of those words that we couldn’t speak before. We can reach across death’s divide”. The bottom line is that our deceased loved ones remain with us, and our love relationships can evolve and even grow.
As our Mass continues, let us offer 2 prayers. First, let us recall the words of St. Therese of Lisieux: “It is not death that will come to fetch me: it is the good God”. Let us pray, with great confidence and trust, that the Risen Jesus may welcome our deceased loved ones into his presence for all eternity.
Second, let us pray for ourselves. Each time we recite the Creed, we say these words: “I believe in the Communion of the Saints”. Let us ask God to help us to deepen our belief that the communion that exists among persons is not ended by death. Then, may God help the love relationships between ourselves and all our beloved deceased become even stronger.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
November 2, 2020