The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Remembrance Mass)

This weekend, we chose to celebrate All Souls at all of the parish Masses on Sunday (which is allowed) as part of our four-week series called “A Crash Course in Catholicism.”

Today, we come together to remember our loved ones who have passed from this life to the hope of the kingdom.  As we continue to grieve their loss, we remember the promises our God has made to us and to them, and we pray that they will all receive the fullness of the fulfillment of those promises.  Here at Saint Mary’s, we are also observing the end of our four-week preaching series called “A Crash Course in Catholicism,” and this week’s topic is, very appropriately, “What happens when we die?”

It’s a very important topic to conclude this four-week series, because it’s a topic that touches every single one of us at one point or another.  The loss of our loved ones, and our own mortality, are universal realities for every single person.  In death, we are united with our Lord, who himself “suffered death and was buried,” as we pray in the Creed at every Sunday Mass.  While death was not in God’s plan for us, the fullness of life in the Kingdom of Heaven certainly was.  Passing through the gates of death, we have the promise of life everlasting.  Jesus came to show us the way through all of that, so that we could be in the place where He and His Father intend to give us the fullness of glory.

As wonderful as this world can be, it has its flaws – we all know that.  It is important that we keep in mind that the fullness of grace and blessing that God wants for us is not on this earth, but rather in the life to come, the glory of heaven, for which we were all created and toward which we must all be straining.  We are travelers in this place; we are only here for a time, and so our time here must be marked by travelling, moving forward, toward that heavenly glory.  This is a story that began at our baptism, continues through our life here on earth, and until we reach the goal of all our lives, our heavenly glory.

There is no one in heaven who is not a saint.  That’s why it’s so important that we join ourselves to God in Christ, that we follow the Way our Lord marked out for us.  We must all become saints so that we can live forever with God.  We should want that for ourselves as much as we do for our departed loved ones.  Becoming a saint is our vocation in this world, that’s the ultimate meaning of life on this earth.  The saints in the Kingdom help us on this journey: their stories are examples for us and their prayers call God’s graces on our lives.  We Catholics don’t worship the saints; we worship God alone.  But we call on the saints for intercession, much as we might call on a friend or loved one to pray for us.  Those saints join us at Mass every time we celebrate it; we all lift up our voices in praise and prayer to God who is the focus of our worship.

I love what the third Eucharistic Prayer offers for Masses for the dead.  We’ll use it this morning, as I do for almost every funeral, but it’s nice sometimes to reflect on those words and let them enter into our prayer more fully.  So the prayer goes: “Remember your servant N. whom you have called from this world to yourself. Grant that he (she) who was united with your Son in a death like his, may also be one with him in his Resurrection…”  Here the Church recognizes that our God does not leave us alone in death.  Death was never God’s will for the human person, rather death came as a result of sin, as Saint Paul reminds us so well.  But in this prayer, the Church recognizes that our God, whose intent is always for our salvation, took on our lowly form and assumed all its defects, including the capacity to die.  And so of the many ways that we are united with our Lord, one of them is through death.  We certainly see death was not the end for him; so if we have faith and follow our Lord, it will not be the end for us either.

The prayer continues: “…when from the earth he will raise up in the flesh those who have died, and transform our lowly body after the pattern of his own glorious body.”  Just as we have been united in death with our Lord, so he intends that we would be united with him in resurrection.  Our Lord intends that the glory of the Resurrection of our Lord would open for us the way to the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom for which we were created in the first place, that Kingdom which is the destination of our life-long journey.  In resurrection, we will be transformed.  The weakness of our flesh will be redeemed, our woundedness will be bound up, our disease will be healed, our sin will be wiped away, leaving nothing but the radiant glory of the very face of God.  Our bodies are not so profane nor so damaged that they can’t become glorious, by being united with our Lord in resurrection.

We continue to pray: “To our departed brothers and sisters, too, and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance into your kingdom.”  Here the Church acknowledges that the dead depend on our prayers.  We implore the Lord to give admittance to the Kingdom to our loved ones.  We pray that their sins would be forgiven, that their weaknesses would be overlooked, that their relationships would be purified, that whatever was less than glorious in them might be made fit for the Kingdom of God.  The Church recognizes that most of our dead brothers and sisters continue their journey to the Kingdom after death.  We call this reality “Purgatory,” and it is not a punishment so much as it is a gift: a gift of continued purification so that the soul can be made fit to live eternally with the Lord.  Our departed loved ones move in this journey with different, more splendid graces than we have on this earth, and they take it up with perhaps fewer distractions than those that divert our attention from the goal.  Whatever is not purified on earth can be purified by the gift of Purgatory, for those who have faith, and for those who need grace.

Finally, the Church recognizes that we are all headed for the same goal, we and our loved ones who have died: “There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end, through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow in the world all that is good.”  The Kingdom is where all of our sadness is erased, and with eyes free from the tears of this life, we can finally see God as he is, and not as we would have him.  We can then be like him, caught up, really, in his life, one with him forever in Christ, receiving all that is good for all eternity.

Our greatest work of charity is to pray that our deceased loved ones would receive all these graces, these wondrous and holy gifts, from our God, who deeply longs that each one of his children would return to be one with him.  In praying for them, the Church extends its ministry to all of us who mourn, enabling us to know the love of God in our time of grief and sadness.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life, all who believe in him will not die forever.  Death was never intended as our forever, as our final stop.  For to God, all are alive, just in different ways.  Praise God that he gives us life, and mercy, and grace, and resurrection.

Eternal rest grant unto all of our loved ones, 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.

All Souls Remembrance Mass

Today’s readings

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

Each year, the Church gives us the grace of remembering, and praying for, all of our loved ones who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, and all the dead whose faith is known to God alone. The Church is great in wisdom in giving us this feast every year. Because even though on this day, we might shed a few tears, still we will have the grace of remembering the ones who have given us life, given us wisdom, those who have been Christ to us, those who have made God’s love tangibly present in our lives.

Perhaps the deepest mystery of the human experience lies in the reality of life and death. Everyone has, or will, experience the death of loved ones, sometimes after a long life, sometimes far too soon, always with feelings of sadness, regret, pain, grief and perhaps even anger or confusion.

That’s how grief works. It might seem sometimes like it would have been better to live without love, but we know deep down that that’s not true. Sadness and even death 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 that 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.

I want to pause here and speak a little about the reality of grief. Because, if there is one thing that we as a society do extremely poorly these days, it’s grieving. We rush through it and hope it’s all done before we have a chance to feel any kind of pain. That’s part and parcel of how things work in our world; we have a pill for every malady and a quick remedy for every pain, plagued with a whole host of horrifying side effects. And what’s important to know is that this is not how the Church teaches us to grieve. One of the most important reasons that we have All Souls Day each year is to give us the experience of remembering and grieving and healing. If you truly love, you will truly grieve, and not turn away from it.

The Church’s Catechism (989) teaches us: “We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.” And so we Christians never grieve as if we have no hope. The Church’s Liturgy echoes this hope in the third Eucharistic Prayer: “There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end, through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.” One of the Prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayers for the Dead makes it very clear that this hope touches our experience of grieving: “In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, that those saddened by the certainty of dying might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come (Preface I for the Dead).”

And so I have some tips on grieving that I hope you will find helpful:

  1.  Don’t rush into the funeral. It’s hard to make all those difficult decisions at a moment’s notice. It’s great if you’ve talked about your wishes with your family, because it makes things easier. But if that hasn’t happened, the family would do well to take its time and avail itself of the resources of the funeral director and the church staff so that a funeral that adequately honors the deceased and comforts the living can be prepared.

2.  Let other people help you. Even if you can do all the preparations, you don’t have to. Let the Church and others help you and minister to you in your time of grief. As a priest, I presided at my father’s funeral, but one of the priests who knew him preached the homily. I found that was very helpful to me in my own grieving.

3.  Have a wake. A lot of people try to short-cut this one because they think it will be too painful. It will hurt a little, yes, but the comfort of others expressing their love for the deceased and for you will do so much to heal you in the time to come.

4.  Don’t be afraid to shed tears. Anyone who has ever seen me preach at some funerals of people I’ve known especially well has seen me get choked up. You’ve probably seen me shed a tear when I’ve talked about my father or my grandparents in a homily. Tears heal us, and it’s good for other people, especially your children, to see you cry. They need to know that pain and sorrow are part of life so that they don’t feel like they’ve gone nuts when it happens to them. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by not allowing them to see you grieve.

5.  Understand that grief doesn’t “go away.” Feelings soften with time, yes, but you will grieve your loved ones for many years to come, perhaps your whole life long. I still grieve for my grandparents who have been gone from my life for many, many years now. Sometimes those waves of grief will come up all of a sudden, without warning, kind of out of the blue. And that’s okay. Remember grief is a sign that we have loved, and loving is the most important thing we will ever do.

One of my most vivid childhood memories was when I was just about nine years old. My grandfather on my mother’s side, who had retired just a few months earlier, was diagnosed with cancer. There wasn’t so much that could be done about cancer in those days, so he wasn’t expected to live long. And so one night, as the oldest of the children, Mom and Dad came to my room to talk to me about Grandpa. That was the night I learned about life and death, sadness and grief, love and pain. We cried a bunch, hugged a lot, and talked about how we were going to miss him.

I went to the wake and funeral with my family, because that’s what we did when a loved one died. My parents could have shielded me from that experience in many ways, as so many parents do, but they chose not to, and I’m glad they made that decision. Death and grief aren’t things we actively seek, but we can’t be afraid to meet them head on, girded with faith, and confident of the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, I can’t say this strongly enough: if we don’t learn to grieve, as early as possible, we will never ever truly love. We won’t want to invest ourselves in love because we won’t want to ever feel pain. Jesus so deeply invested himself in love that he suffered the pain of the cross for us, so as to open for us the way to resurrection. We have to be willing to suffer loss in order to gain anything truly glorious.

Even if the memories aren’t the best, and even if we struggle with the pain of past hurts mixed with the sorrow of grief, there is grace in grieving and remembering. Maybe this day can be an occasion of healing, even if it’s just a little bit. Maybe our tears, mixed with the saving Blood of Christ, can wash and purify our wounded hearts and sorrowful souls. And certainly our prayers are heard by our God who gives us healing and brings our loved ones closer to him, purifying them of any stain of sin gathered along the journey of life.

That pain that perhaps we feel won’t all go away today. We are left with tears and loneliness, and that empty place at the table, and that hole in our heart. 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, with all of our hurts healed and relationships purified, in the kingdom that knows no end.

Eternal rest grant unto all of our departed loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Bereaved Parents Group Talk

I’m glad to be here with you tonight, but I do want to start out by saying that I have absolutely no idea how you feel. I have never even had a child, let alone lost one to death, so I won’t insult you by saying that I know how it feels. I do, however, know some things about grief, grief that I’ve experienced first-hand, and grief that I’ve watched people suffer through. So what I’d like to do this evening is to share some of my own experiences of grief, then speak about the church’s approach to grief; finally I’d like to answer some of the questions that you sent to me.

A lot of what I want to say about grief you may or may not have heard me say before. I do preach about grief from time to time, and especially on the feast of All Souls, so I’m going to draw my comments largely from that.

I’d like to begin by speaking about my father. Just last week, we celebrated the second anniversary of his death. Mom, my sister Sharon, and my Aunt Eileen (dad’s sister) came to Mass and we later went to the cemetery to pray and lay some flowers, and then went to eat. That’s a pretty good picture of how grief works in our family, and always has. We remember those we love, we pray, we visit the cemetery, and we celebrate them at some kind of meal, talking about them and remembering who they were for us. It’s a pretty Catholic version of grieving and remembering.

Last November, I took a road trip. I packed up early on Sunday and was out of the house by 6am, and took a 3 hour and 45 minute drive to see a friend, one of my classmates from seminary, who is a priest in the diocese of Springfield. I visited with him all of Sunday and on Monday morning, then packed up just before noon and returned home.

I mention this because the trip itself was a bit unusual for me. Usually, I’ll play the radio or my iPod in the car the whole way down, but for most of the trip this time, I traveled in silence. I did that because I was aware that I was missing my dad in a special way. I think I was missing him in a special way on this trip because Dad was great for road trips. He’d get up before the crack of dawn, which is what I did, and he’d motor on toward whatever our destination was. He loved to drive even long distances, and especially when I was a kid, the trip was kind of filled with expectation. It wasn’t always fun getting up so early to leave, but it was kind of cool because it was a different experience, and as a kid, who could sleep the night before vacation anyway?

So many wonderful things continue to remind me of Dad. I was sitting on the new deck at Mom’s house a couple of weeks ago. We had intended Dad to sit out and enjoy the deck that summer, but he died just a few days before it could be completed. He would have loved it; he always liked sitting outside and enjoying the neighborhood and his house. So as I sat there on that deck and prayed my breviary, I found myself especially close to Dad.

Whenever I was staying at Mom and Dad’s 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.

Last fall, 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!

As I’ve experienced these things over the last couple of years, I’ve been aware of my sense of loss t hat doesn’t ever seem to completely go away. In some ways, that’s a good thing, because it reminds me how much I have loved and how much I was loved. And through all of it, I have felt the abiding presence of God who is with us in all of our joys, and all of our sorrows. I really feel like the danger of grieving is so miniscule compared with the danger of never having loved in our lives.

I come at grief from a couple of perspectives. I’m Irish on dad’s side and Italian on mom’s side. So the hands down winner for grieving is the Italian side of me. I have relatives who have been known to throw themselves on the casket at a cemetery service, and there is generally a lot of outward grieving going on. The Irish side of me makes all the arrangements, does what needs to be done, then never speaks of it again. That’s a generalization, of course, but there’s some truth to all of it.

I had the opportunity to experience grieving at a fairly young age. It was when my grandfather, Mom’s Dad, was close to death. Mom and Dad talked with me about what was going to happen, and we all cried and hugged, and I began the strange feeling of grief when I was just nine years old. When the time came, as is the custom on both sides of our family, all of us went to the wake and funeral, little as we were.

Some people try to shield their children from that experience. Indeed, our overly medicated society tries to protect us all from that experience of grief, white-washing it and moving on just as soon as possible. But how grateful I am that my parents didn’t do that to me, because grieving is a healthy experience in life. Through that experience, I learned to love more deeply, not less. I learned that the people in my life are signs to me of God’s love and presence in my life. I learned that grieving is part of life, that it’s natural, that it’s something we all experience, that it’s a sign of God’s love. We have to learn to grieve, as soon as we have the opportunity, and not to be afraid of it, because grieving is a way that we remember and love and heal and grow.

A couple of weeks ago, I went on retreat. I decided to take my retreat this year at Mundelein Seminary, where I went to school. I was able to stay there, and spend some time reading and praying and recharging myself. One of the things I tried to do every day was take a walk around the grounds. One day on my walk around the lake there, I came across an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows that was recently erected there. It marked the spot where, in the fall of my last year in seminary, four of my brother seminarians were involved in a horrible, alcohol-related accident. The two back-seat passengers were thrown from the car, and died. The seminary isn’t like a big state university, it’s a small school of about 230 students, so you can imagine the impact on that small group of men.

The day it happened was, ironically, or perhaps by design, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The priest who presided at Mass that day had written his homily the night before, and spoke of Our Lady’s experience of grieving the loss of her Son Jesus. He never changed a word of it, and of course it resonated with all of us on that day in a way it couldn’t ever have resonated on any other day. I’ve never seen a room full of hundreds of men in tears except on that day, and let me tell you, it was moving.

The reason I bring this story up is that it is a good example to me of Catholic grieving. The icon was erected a year or so after I left the seminary, and I think it was a good way to remember Matty and Jared. The community marked the spot where the horrible thing had taken place, consecrated the memory of those good men who had done something stupid to God who makes beauty out of the worst things possible, and commended the whole of it to the saints – in this case in the person of Our Lady of Sorrows.

We believe in the Communion of Saints, which is that wonderful “cloud of witnesses” that we hear about in the Scriptures. In the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.” This cloud of witnesses, this Communion of Saints consists of all the saints that we always know about: the men and women throughout history that have been formally and canonically recognized as saints. We believe that these people are definitely in heaven, and have the power to intercede for us through their fervent prayers.

The Communion of Saints also includes, however, those men and women who have never been formally recognized as saints. They are our loved ones, good and holy people for the most part, who have helped us to see God in this life. They too can intercede for us to God. They may or may not be in heaven at this time, but are most likely headed there in any event. They may still need to undergo the merciful purification that we call Purgatory for a time, but nonetheless, they have been on the whole witnesses of faith for us.

So as I stood there looking at the image of Our Lady of Sorrows, I thought about the Saints, especially the Blessed Virgin, and I thought about the saints, including Matty and Jared, and I prayed for those “small-s” saints with a prayer that was one of Matty’s favorites:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

Amen.
The Church’s Liturgy is what helps us through our grieving. In the Liturgy, we pray what we believe. And what we believe about grief is that it’s normal, that it’s part of life, that it’s a response to the gift of life that we have been given. 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.

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 one of the Prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayer that is used at funerals tells us: “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 Third Eucharistic Prayer itself tells us 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.

Grief and loss can do a number of things to us, and that is what makes it so scary. Some people can become fixated in their grief and can be taken by a kind of clinical depression. For that, we must count on the expert assistance of counselors and therapists who can help us through the root causes of depression and help us to experience our grief in healthier ways. But that doesn’t mean that everyone who experiences loss should be medicated or is even ill. If you’re moving through grief and continue to be aware of the gifts of your relationship with those you have lost, and continue to know that God is present with you even in your pain, then you’re probably grieving in healthy ways. But if you’re lost and have lost sight of God’s love, then you might need to speak with someone about your grief.

Jesus said in the Beatitudes “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” What makes this a particularly outrageous statement is that in biblical language, the word “blessed” here means “happy.” So how is it that mourners are actually happy? And the answer to that is that mourners have the wonderful experience of God’s presence in their grief. When we grieve, we are especially close to God, close to our God who grieves when we are hurt, who may allow the bad things that happen in our lives, but never wills them, whose heart breaks whenever we sin and turn away from him. We are made in the image and likeness of our God who is no stranger to grief, especially in the person of Jesus Christ, who grieved at the death of his friend Lazarus, who grieved with those he ministered to, and whose heart was broken when he saw the sadness of his mother at the foot of the cross. Our God accepts grief head-on, and so should we, aware that in our grieving we are closer to God than ever, and have the benefit of his abiding presence in our pain.

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.

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

Today’s readings: Isaiah 25:6-9; I Corinthians 15:51-57; John 6:37-40

This past Sunday and Monday, I took a couple of days off.  I packed up early on Sunday and was out of the house by 6am, and took a 3 hour and 45 minute drive to see a friend, one of my classmates from seminary, who is a priest in the diocese of Springfield.  I visited with him all of Sunday and on Monday morning, then packed up just before noon and returned home.

I mention this because the trip itself was a bit unusual for me.  Usually, I’ll play the radio or my iPod in the car the whole way down, but for most of the trip this time, I traveled in silence.  I did that because I was aware that I was missing my dad in a special way.  He died a year ago in May, and I’ve been missing him a lot.  But I think I was missing him in a special way on this trip because Dad was great for road trips.  He’d get up before the crack of dawn, which is what I did, and he’d motor on toward whatever our destination was.  He loved to drive even long distances, and especially when I was a kid, the trip was kind of filled with expectation.  It wasn’t always fun getting up so early to leave, but it was kind of cool because it was a different experience, and as a kid, who could sleep the night before vacation anyway?

So many wonderful things continue to remind me of Dad.  I was sitting on the new deck at Mom’s house a couple of weeks ago.  We had intended Dad to sit out and enjoy the deck that summer, but he died just a few days before it could be completed.  He would have loved it; he always liked sitting outside and enjoying the neighborhood and his house.  So as I sat there on that deck and prayed my breviary, I found myself especially close to Dad.

As I’ve experienced these things over the last several weeks, I’ve been aware of my sense of loss t hat doesn’t ever seem to completely go away.  In some ways, that’s a good thing, because it reminds me how much I have loved and how much I was loved.  And through all of it, I have felt the abiding presence of God who is with us in all of our joys, and all of our sorrows.  I really feel like the danger of grieving is so miniscule compared with the danger of never having loved in our lives.

I’ve reflected on my experience of grief this past week.  I was with some of my priest friends who form a kind of support group for each other earlier in the week.  We were praying about this feast of All Souls, and talking about our experience of loss and grief.  I shared what came to me in that moment, and that was a profound sense of gratitude to my parents for having given me the opportunity to learn to grieve when I was little.  I remember when my grandfather, Mom’s Dad, was close to death.  Mom and Dad talked with me about what was going to happen, and we all cried and hugged, and I began the strange feeling of grief when I was just nine years old.  When the time came, as is the custom on both sides of our family, all of us went to the wake and funeral, little as we were.

Some people try to shield their children from that experience.  Indeed, our overly medicated society tries to protect us all from that experience of grief, white-washing it and moving on just as soon as possible.  But how grateful I am that my parents didn’t do that to me.  Through that experience, I learned to love more deeply, not less.  I learned that the people in my life are signs to me of God’s love and presence in my life.  I learned that grieving is part of life, that it’s natural, that it’s something we all experience, that it’s a sign of God’s love.  We have to learn to grieve, as soon as we have the opportunity, and not to be afraid of it, because grieving is a way that we remember and love and heal and grow.

Grief and loss can do a number of things to us, and that is what makes it so scary.  Some people can become fixated in their grief and can be taken by a kind of clinical depression.  For that, we must count on the expert assistance of counselors and therapists who can help us through the root causes of depression and help us to experience our grief in healthier ways.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone who experiences loss should be medicated or is even ill.  If you’re moving through grief and continue to be aware of the gifts of your relationship with those you have lost, and continue to know that God is present with you even in your pain, then you’re probably grieving in healthy ways.  But if you’re lost and have lost sight of God’s love, then you might need to speak with someone about your grief.

Jesus said in the Beatitudes “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  What makes this a particularly outrageous statement is that in biblical language, the word “blessed” here means “happy.”  So how is it that mourners are actually happy?  And the answer to that is that mourners have the wonderful experience of God’s presence in their grief.  When we grieve, we are especially close to God, close to our God who grieves when we are hurt, who may allow the bad things that happen in our lives, but never wills them, whose heart breaks whenever we sin and turn away from him.  We are made in the image and likeness of our God who is no stranger to grief, especially in the person of Jesus Christ, who grieved at the death of his friend Lazarus, who grieved with those he ministered to, and whose heart was broken when he saw the sadness of his mother at the foot of the cross.  Our God accepts grief head-on, and so should we, aware that in our grieving we are closer to God than ever, and have the benefit of his abiding presence in our pain.

On this feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, I could reflect on the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  But you could read that in the bulletin.  I could tell you all about purgatory and the need for us to pray for the dead.  But there’s another time and place for that too, I think.  Instead, I have chosen to reflect on our experience of grief, and I’ve done that because it’s an experience we all have, on some level, at some time in our lives.  I want you to know how very natural grief is, and how very blessed an experience it is.

Death is always a time of great sadness, but our Liturgy teaches us that we who believe in the Lord Jesus must never grieve as if we have no hope.  Our hope is always in Christ, the one who knows our grief and pain, and is with us in every moment of our lives, most especially when we are in pain.  The Church teaches us that if we believe in God and do his will, we can be reunited with all of our loved ones forever one day.  For the believer, the hopelessness of death is always overcome by the great hope of God’s grace.

We will hear later in this Liturgy that for those who believe in Christ, life is changed, not ended.  Because Jesus has died and risen from the dead to pay the price for our sins, we have been given the great gift of salvation.  And so we know that death only separates us from those we love for a short time, and that death never has the last word because Christ has triumphed over death.  The beginning and end of everything is Christ, and Christ is with us in our first moments, and also in our last.  He is with us in our pain and with us in our joy.  He helps us to remember our loved ones with love that continues beyond our death and beyond the grave.  Grief and loss and pain are temporary things for us.  Love is eternal, love never ends, love can never be destroyed by death, love leads us all to the great glory of the resurrection and eternal light in that kingdom where Christ has conquered everything, even death itself.

Eternal rest grant unto all of our loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

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