26 January 2018

Death is Not the End

Mom's Memorial Mass
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Death is not the end. We know this. Death is not the end, and we know this b/c Christ died to defeat death. He died on the Cross to put an end to sin and death, to create in us a hope for the resurrection and life eternal. Death cannot be the end b/c “hope does not disappoint,” hope in, trust in the promises of Christ cannot fail. And we know this b/c Christ himself prays, “Father, those whom you gave me are your gift to me.” We are Christ's, and again he prays, “I wish that where I am they also may be with me. . .” And we are here, where he is, in the Body, giving thanks for his passion and death, and hoping in our resurrection when Defeated Death comes to take his best, last shot. Death is not the end; it cannot be the end b/c we – each one of us – b/c we are bought, paid for, and delivered into the possession of, the family of God, our Father. We are His adopted sons and adopted daughters, reborn in baptism, confirmed in the Spirit, and joined into the Body through his body and blood. If dying is not the end, then why does the death of a mother, a father, a child, why does it hurt so much? If dying is not the end, then what do the dead do for us, for those left behind?

The dead bear witness to our enduring hope. If we open our hearts and minds to the fleeting nature of our earthly existence; if we acknowledge our fragility in this fallen world; and if we have surrendered ourselves to the cross of Christ, following him in all things, then the dead minister to us in their absence from our lives; that is, by not being with us still, they bring us back to a pillar of our faith – the enduring hope of the resurrection and all that that hope requires of us while we still live. The dead, in the hardest possible way, remind us that our lives are given to us – not earned, not borrowed but freely given. They remind us – by their bold absence – that our promised eternal lives are gifts as well. Never earned, never merited by own hands, but freely given, freely gifted. In their silence, they remind us that our hope must be lived – daily, hourly – until we come face-to-face with Christ himself for judgment. The ministry of the dead is remembrance. Even as we remember those who have died, they tend to our desire to forget who we are made to be, who we are re-made to be in Christ Jesus. Even as sinners, Christ died for us. How much more then are we loved now that we are justified by his death and resurrection?

How do we hope in the face of death? How do we go on? Jesus prays to the Father, “I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” We know His name. And we know that the Father's love for His Son is with us, and that Christ is in us. The hope that cannot disappoint is our good habit of living knowing that – as we follow Christ – death in the world is as fleeting as life in the world, a passing through onto the resurrection of the body and life eternal. But even with hope, the death of a mother, a father, a child, death hurts those left behind. Perhaps part of that hurting is the ministry of the dead, their traumatic way of bringing us back to clarity and commitment; their way of pushing hope back into our lives when we have chosen despair. If all of this is true, then to mourn, to grieve is to welcome and nurture hope – as painful as it is. And those who mourn are blessed b/c their dead minister to them with the hope that only Christ can promise and deliver. Death is not the end. Death is defeated. But all of us – each one of us – will be left behind. And our faith in Christ will travel with us. Then one day, it will be our turn – through our bold absence – to minister to the living, to pray for those still on the Way.

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