When we are faced with the hard reality of death,
beyond the shock, the grief, the anger, the exhaustion,
what we face is the darkness of unknowing.
What really lies beyond?
As a priest, I visit with a lot of folks who are facing death, or grieving.
So many vivid memories, all so different.
I think of a woman who, during her final months, was so often afraid.
There came a point when she wasn’t afraid anymore, she was just tired.
I had a funeral for a woman who died of cancer in the prime of her life,
leaving a teenage son. Amidst all that was so painful was something beautiful—
as the day approached, her every thought was about her son.
I think of my own father, in the months and days before he left this life, at 97.
What made that hard was that he was so ready to go, but it didn’t happen.
In his final months, he said he saw his mother,
as well as my mother. He saw them come for him.
One part of me said, “that was just a dream.”
But on the other hand…who can say?
We don’t really know.
But from God’s Word we have some glimpses.
The first reading describes people doing, long ago, what we still do:
we offer a sacrifice for those who have died.
As Catholics, we do pray for those who have died.
Each of us, in our own hearts, knows what remains unfixed and incomplete in ourselves;
and we can only rely on God’s grace to make us complete for heaven.
This is what Purgatory is.
It’s not frightening, it’s a source of great hope!
Purgatory is the mud-room of heaven;
The writer C.S. Lewis talked about
someone arriving in heaven,
his clothes tattered and not quite clean,
and was told, “oh, can go in”—and the soul responded,
“yes Sir, but I’d like to be cleaned up first!”
This part of our Faith is very realistic.
There is something very reassuring about gathering,
as we do, to pray for those who have died.
It is reassuring to know that others will do this for us;
and it can bring great healing to us, as we go forward.
And not just to us—but to those for whom we pray.
You and I are bound by time.
For us, the past is past, we can’t go back.
But God is outside of time. It has no power over him.
So we pray, today, in this present;
But God can reach back, and bring a healing touch.
Still we are faced with unknowing.
This is where we come to the Lord Jesus himself.
Our faith as Christians does not rest on our own experiences—a dream, a reassurance—
Because we can so easily encounter unbearable darkness.
Our faith does not even rest on the Scriptures—
that may surprise you to hear me say that, but it’s true.
No, our faith rests on a Person, Jesus Christ himself!
Mary and Martha, in their grief, might have found comfort in Scripture,
but they wanted Jesus to come.
“If you had been here,” Martha said, “my brother would not have died.”
Did you ever consider the sacrifice Lazarus made?
From the gates of Paradise, he was called back to this world. Why?
This happened to strengthen those who believed in him
for the terrible darkness that lay just ahead.
It show them and us that Jesus Christ is Lord of all things, including death and life.
Shortly after this, Jesus faced death himself.
He showed us we didn’t need to be afraid,
and that we would not be alone,
and above all, that there is nothing—
not even death itself—that cannot be redeemed.
We still peer dimly into the void. What lies ahead? We know very little.
But we don’t need know. We know who is ahead: “Behold, I make all things new.”
But he is not far ahead, not far at all. When we gather for the Mass,
We come to the very gate of Paradise, Jesus Christ is that Gate!
In the Mass, He makes his death and resurrection real for us.
We are witnesses as our champion wins the Victory for us!
And to sustain us on our journey—for you and I are like Lazarus,
we must go back from the gate of Paradise,
to continue to bear witness in this world to the Power of Jesus Christ!—
to sustain us, from his wounded side he shares his Flesh and his Blood.
In the moment of Eucharistic communion,
we are at the Gate, we are united in Christ,
we are with him—and through him,
with all those whom we can no longer see,
but who stand in his presence, ready—
or being made ready—like a Bride.
This is the miracle of the Mass, and the Eucharist:
“Behold, I make all things new.”