This is the month of the holy souls. We all have people we mourn: grandparents, parents, brothers or sisters, children, very close friends. We remember and pray for these people who touched our lives. We pray they are with God. I had a funeral on All Souls Day and the cemetery was a mob scene.
Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is the first written piece of the New Testament. The gospels were written years later. Paul was convinced that the end of the world would happen in his lifetime. The victorious and risen Christ would come and end the cruel persecution his followers were suffering. The Christians in Thessalonica looked forward to that glorious day of deliverance. But they wondered about family members and friends who had already died. How would they share in the day of victory?
We can’t take Paul’s imaginary description of this event literally. What is important is Paul’s encouraging answer to their question is that when all this happens, this coming of the Lord, “we will be with the Lord always.” Paul assures them he knows this from the Lord himself. With this assurance before them Paul tells these good people they must not grieve like people who have no hope, people who see death as an entrance into eternal nothingness. Jesus died and rose again and it will be the same for those who died believing in the Risen Christ, they too will be raised, and we will always be with the Lord, sharing that wonder with all those we knew and loved in life.
At every Sunday Mass we rattle off the Apostles’ Creed without thinking of what we are saying. The final words of our statement of faith are, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” In other words ‘I believe that death is not the end of life it is the beginning of new and endless life.’ As St. Paul says, “the eye has not seen, nor has the ear heard, nor has it entered into human the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
At Steve Jobs memorial service his sister Mona Simpson describes the last moments of her brother’s life. She said, “even as he slipped away there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, and the still more beautiful. Before dying he’s looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children and then at his life’s partner Laurene and then over their shoulders past them and utter these final words, ‘Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.’” The eye has not seen, nor has the ear heard, nor has it entered into human mind the things God has prepared.
Have you ever noticed in the obituaries how they announce that there will be a celebration of the person’s life at a funeral home or some other destination. It is important to remember and celebrate the relationships we had with those who have died. But our faith calls us to celebrate the life that person now is enjoying swept up in the glory of the Risen Christ. We don’t deny the grief and sorrow we suffer at the death of someone we loved. But our faith tells us that in death, life is changed but not ended and when the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting place in heaven.
One of the saints said. “Those who die in grace go no further from us than God and God is always near.” Our deceased relatives and friends are still part of our lives. As some unknown author wrote, ‘Death cannot unravel the bonds of love and friendship we forged during life.’ This month of November is an important month; it calls us to remember in a special way those who have died. It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for those who have died. This month of November calls us to take seriously and find hope in the words we say at Sunday Mass: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.’