Friday, November 2, 2007

We are defined by whom we have lost


Columnist Anna Quindlen, reflecting a few years ago on death after the passing of her sister-in-law at a young age wrote, “My brother and I . . . were both teenagers when our mother died, we know that if anyone were to ask us, ‘When does it stop hurting?’ we would have to answer in all candor, ‘If it ever does, we will let you know.’...As a writer, I wrote my obituaries carefully and think about how little the facts suffice, not only to describe the dead but to tell what they will mean to the living all the rest of our lives. We are defined by whom we have lost.”

As I reflect on this All Souls day, I kept hearing Quindlen's words, “we are defined by whom we have lost.” As we gather here today and in particular call to mind all our loved ones who have gone to their eternal rest, the words can almost become a prayer, we are defined by whom we have lost.

We live in a culture that wants us to “get over it”, move on, or the current favorite word of pop psychology “to find closure” - as if such a thing actually exists. But, the Church, in its long held wisdom, gives us this Feast, asking us to not “get over it,” but rather to give voice to our grief and sorrow. Today is a day that respects our love for those who have died, both the grief of losing someone close to us, perhaps over the course of this year, or the loss in our world due to hunger, poverty, violence and war.

As Christians, we believe that our dear ones are now safe in God's care. As followers of Jesus, we believe He will strengthen us while we live. No need for heavy theology tonight, or extensive explanation of our scriptures for we know what we believe. Instead, just three small things to do at the end of the day:

1. Remember - Jesus gave his disciples those powerful words, “Do this in memory of me,” in other words, remember me. So too, our loved ones must be called to mind, we must keep them in our memory and keep our love for them alive. Angels appeared to the disciples after the resurrection telling them to remember that He prepared them for this moment. From Luke’s Gospel, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Then they remembered his words. We too, in our tears and sorrows, remember that Jesus understands our hurt, our sorrow, our heartache. We can bring all of it to Him and He will heal us.

2. Give Thanks - In Sirach, we hear the remembrance of people who lived their faith and touched others. The memory fills him with a sense of gratitude and praise. When we remember those who have died, so many thoughts come into our mind: things we did, or did not do; regret; words that may or may not have been spoken. Tonight we are asked to dismiss it all; just for tonight. We remember our dead and for them and their lives we are grateful. For what; for whom are you grateful? Whether their life was a long full one, or ended with too many roads untravelled; whether they died suddenly, peacefully, after a long illness...for what are you grateful. Just relish it and hold it to the Lord.

3. Live - We are defined by whom we have lost. Those we have loved and lost, have contributed to who we are, so who are we? How can we allow the memories and the gratitude to shape us? Maybe that is the privilege, the blessing of those who have embraced loss: we know that we cannot live like we have all the time in the world. We cannot let words go unspoken, gestures of love go undone. Like the disciples, we realize we cannot wear grief like a badge that exempts us from living. No, our grief gently, but firmly, calls us to live.

The great Sojourner Truth once said, “I'm not gonna die, honey... I'm going home like a shooting star.” Just for tonight we pause, and think about those stars, those lights that have shaped us, and gone home. And we take a deep breath, and continue our lives, knowing that Jesus, the Morning Star, will safely guide us home. Tonight we remember, give thanks and live as those who will also be joined with them in heaven one day.

Eternal life grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

May God give you peace.

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