Readings: Wisdom 3:1-9 | Revelation 21:1-7 | Matthew 25:31-40
When I celebrated this Liturgy last year, the homily I gave was pretty straightforward. It was theologically accurate and liturgically sound. This year, the experience is a little different for me, and so will the homily be different. Many of you know that this past May, my Dad died, and the experience of grieving his loss has helped me to personalize my theology and my pastoral care, and my preaching. Today I hope you don't mind if I reminisce a bit about my Dad, because I do it so that perhaps it may touch something in you to help you in your grieving and give you hope in your sorrows.
Lots of things remind me about Dad. Whenever I was staying at the house overnight, and I'd get up in the morning to go shower, I would pass by his room and he would still be in bed. But he'd be awake, and would always say "good morning." I miss those good mornings now. Just the other day, Mom and I were out staining the deck. When we were getting started, I was searching the garage for some painting supplies. When I got frustrated and couldn't find what I was looking for, I said "okay Dad, where did you put it?" And the next drawer I opened had all the things I needed, right where he left them. I couldn't help but smile and say "thanks" because Dad was the only one who knew where anything was in that garage. Not that it was messy; it was very organized, but he alone knew the scheme!
In the days and weeks and months since May, my family has gathered to celebrate many events – as best we could. I remember on Mother's Day, just after Dad died, we gathered at my aunt's house and I celebrated Mass there. When we were getting ready, I thought to myself, "Oh wait, we can't start yet … somebody's missing." As I looked around, I realized just exactly who we were missing. It's times like that that we go on with a bit of a heavy heart. We have told the stories, and laughed about the memories. That has helped some, but there's still a hole in our hearts.
These days, remembering is hard for all of us I think. As we come close to the first holidays without our loved ones, we will miss celebrating with them. There will be an empty place at the table, an extra Christmas stocking, nobody to help find the burnt out light bulb on the Christmas lights that keeps the whole string from working. We feel grief more intensely at the holidays, because the world is rejoicing, but we are hurting. I remember a time visiting a gift store in Glen Ellyn years ago, just after one of my grandmothers died. It was all decked out for Christmas and looked so very homey. I was overcome with a wave of depression that socked me from out of nowhere. I had no idea what that was about, and I had to leave in a hurry. Later, I realized that it was about grieving my grandmother.
And so I think it is the Church's great wisdom that has us stop and celebrate All Souls Day before the holidays are upon us. Because we are a people who believe that there is hope in the midst of sorrow, joy in the midst of pain, resurrection that follows death, and love that survives the grave and leads us to the one who made us for himself. There has to be something that gets us through all these hard times, and I think the Church gives us that something today.
In the Liturgy, the words of hope that we find lead us back to the Cross and Resurrection. Death is not the end. Love does not come to an end at the grave. As the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer will tell us today: "Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven." Our loved ones who have been people of faith have been made new by passing through the gates of death. Their happiness is our hope; the grace and blessing that they now share will one day be ours.
But I will acknowledge that even that glimmer of hope doesn't erase all the pain. We are left with tears and loneliness, and that empty place at the table. But sadness and pain absolutely do not last forever, because death and sin have been ultimately defeated by the blood of Christ. We can hope in the day that our hearts will be healed, and we will be reunited with our loved ones forever, in the kingdom that knows no end. The Eucharistic Prayer itself will tell us tonight that there will come a day when "every tear will be wiped away. On that day, we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you for ever through Christ our Lord, from whom all good things come."
Perhaps sometimes it feels like it would have been better not to have loved at all, because then maybe the pain wouldn't be so great. We know that's not true. Sadness and pain are temporary. Love is eternal. As the Church's Vigil for the Deceased tells us, "all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death." We know that death only separates us for a short time, and even though there is a hole in our heart, the sadness that we feel is way better than never having loved at all, never having had our loved ones in our lives at all.
The pain doesn't just go away. There is no time when grief is "over." I miss Dad in many ways, all the time. You miss your loved ones in exactly the same way. There are times when our grief overwhelms us, comes at us out of nowhere. But many are the times when our memories provide us healing and joy. My nephew had a very close relationship with Dad, who he called "Boppy." He often dreamed of Dad and said to his mom, my sister, a week or so ago, "I'm sad because I didn't dream of Boppy last night. I like to dream about Boppy." Our dreams, our memories are gifts from our God who insists that we always know that we are loved. Sometimes it hurts, but ultimately it heals. Sadness is temporary. Love is eternal.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.