Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Love does not end in death

Commemoration of the Faithful Departed 2016

This year seems to have been a tragic year for the local Church, with the death of two good priests, one in the prime of his ministry. I must confess I felt conflicted whilst attending the funeral of the younger priest – a mixture of envy and anxiety. I mulled over the prospect of whether there would be a similar outpouring of love at my funeral. Then it dawned upon me that all of us face a Catch 22 predicament; in the event that we live to a ripe old age and die old, most of our friends and acquaintances would already be dead, which leaves us with a handful of bereaving mourners and well-wishers in attendance. The plus side of dying young or as they say, in your prime, would be that you would certainly get a royal send-off – bus-loads coming from all over. However, the downside is that you won’t be around to enjoy it. You’re already dead! So, ultimately, it depends on whether you would prefer to die young and get a big send off here, or die old and have a big welcoming committee on the other side paving the way for your grand entrance.

I guess for many people, the obvious choice would be the former – having a glorious big-send-off, fanfare and all here on earth. Whereas, the truth is that we should be desiring the latter. This is the great tragedy of our time – we have largely forgotten that our present earthly lives are merely preparation for eternal life. The reason for this is because we have largely forgotten God and we live as if this life alone mattered. Every single desire must be fulfilled, every single problem must be solved and every single imperfection must be rooted out. We fail to remember that we are all work-in-progress and the final completed work will be done by God, who will always have the prerogative of putting in the final finishing touch.

This obsession with our present life has led to this pitiable amnesia of death and the dead. It is indeed a pity that we, in our enlightened day, generally only allow a single day in a year to remember - in a deliberate and purposeful way - our beloved dead.  As we become materially comfortable, we grow afraid of death.  It sometimes seems that the more comfortable we are, the more afraid of death are we.  Why? The real problem is that man’s collective and selective amnesia of death is due to his amnesia of God. Yes, we have largely forgotten God and we live as if this life alone mattered.  Indeed, this is the great tragedy of our time.

Reflecting on the death of his brother Satyrus, Saint Ambrose of Milan said that “we should have a daily familiarity with death, a daily desire for death” because “our soul must learn to free itself from the desires of the body.” This may seem to be like a morbid suggestion but think about it......   If we live each day with the recognition that one day - perhaps today - we will die, how different our lives would be! The great saint who cared for lepers in the Hawaiian leper colony and who eventually became one of them, Saint Damien of Moloka'i once wrote to his brother, saying, “the cemetery and the hut of the dying are my best meditation books, as well as for the benefit of my own soul as in view of preparing my instructions.”

Too often we forget that death is, as Saint Ambrose says, “no cause for mourning, something to be avoided, for the Son of God did not think it beneath His dignity, nor did He seek to escape it.” This is not to suggest that we should not grieve the deaths of our loved ones; it highlights, rather, the destiny of those who have died in Christ.  Love does not end in death, whether it be our love for neighbour or for Godor the love of the Lord for us. He died so that we might be with Him for ever.

We come, then, to the doctrine of Purgatory, that process by which souls are cleansed of their impurities and are made holy to stand before the throne of God. The offering of Masses for the repose of the soul of the faithful departed, especially the Funeral Mass, and today’s Commemoration of the Faithful Departed are linked with our belief in purgatory. We believe that if a person has died fundamentally believing in God but with venial sins and the hurt caused by sin, then God in His divine love and mercy will first purify the soul. After this purification has been completed, the soul will have the holiness and purity needed to share in the beatific vision in heaven.  Therefore, just as we pray for each other and share each other's burdens now, the faithful on earth can offer prayers and sacrifices to help the departed souls undergoing purification, and no better prayer could be offered than that of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

And so we pray this day, and every day:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May they rest in peace.  Amen.

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