Friday, December 23, 2005

A funeral in the light of Christmas

It’s impossible not to notice the world-changing event we will mark starting Sunday. The church shows signs of the celebration only days away. “God became man that men might become God.” St. Thomas Aquinas made that startling statement, echoing both the Scriptures and our ancient Christian tradition.

This may seem an odd theme for a funeral—except that this fact: God became man—is necessary for us to have hope; and therefore, this celebration gives us hope.

And at time like this, hope is a very precious commodity.

It may seem curious to us, but at the time the first reading was written, it was not taken for granted that there was life after this life ends. That’s why it said, “they seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead”; but rather, they “are in the hands of God” and “they are in peace.”

If we take it for granted that there is life after death, then we can thank 2,000 years of the Gospel being proclaimed—we heard it today; and Paul received and believed in the Gospel.

And it all starts with what we celebrate Sunday: God became man—so that men might become God.

We heard St. Paul tell us this in the second reading: we “did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but [we] received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba! ‘Father!’”

The other night, Mary, you and I were together, with Paul, with much of your family around you. We prayed with Paul, and for Paul. Paul believed in Christ; he received the Spirit of adoption in baptism. And he was crying out, as you know. I think he was crying to Abba.

We recalled Paul’s baptism, just now, at the doors of church. Notice we did it at the doors; because baptism is our entry into Christ. Then we came here, to the altar. Mary, did not you and Paul come to this altar, so many times over the years, to receive Christ in the Eucharist?

Consider all we receive in baptism—what St. Paul was talking about: we are adopted, not as hirelings or servants, but as children—true children of God, “joint heirs with Christ”! The Eucharist—the Body and Blood of Christ, makes us not only friends of Christ—we are that, certainly—but we become part of Him. We share his Sonship! We share His divine life!

And that is hope!

That hope brings light to the darkness of sorrow—and it lights up certain features of life and gives them meaning to encourage us.

For 58 years and counting, Mary and Paul had a romance. It was sealed in the sacrament of marriage. Marriage being a sacrament means it, too, is a sharing in divine life. All those ordinary events, all those ups and downs, all the joy—and sorrow: Mary, at all those moments, you and Paul were sharing the very life of God, through Jesus Christ. When your children were born, you had a Christmas moment; today, you have a Good Friday moment. But it’s all part of Christ. His birth, his life, his death…

And his resurrection.

All this and infinitely more was wrapped up in the Gift humanity received that first Christmas, so long ago: God became man that men might become God!

Bishop Fulton Sheen used to point out that Jesus was the only man ever born to die. That was the meaning of his life: to embrace the Cross, to embrace human suffering, all the way to death. So that the path of salvation, for all of us, would cut straight through that which is most terrifying, most sorrowful for us.

Recalling that now likewise gives us hope! Jesus came to die; so that we might live. He rose from the dead, to come back and share his divine life with us.

I can only imagine how hard it might be for you to celebrate Christmas this year—or in years to come.

But I pray that this might be some help to you. Jesus was born to die; the result is that we, in dying, are born to eternal life. Therefore, may this be in your thoughts, at this time of year, in time to come: Jesus’ birth means Paul will live— not just for a few years on earth —but forever.

1 comment:

mrsdarwin said...

That's a lovely sermon, Father. I hope the family was much comforted by it.