The post that follows is the article I wrote for the cover of our bulletin at Our Lady of the Lakes for July 31, 2011.
Death & Life
Jesus knows what it is like to lose a loved one. Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus learning of the death of John the Baptist. When Jesus receives the news that John the Baptist has died, he withdraws in a boat by himself. Remember they are relatives (Luke 1:36 identifies Mary and Elizabeth as relatives). Jesus also knew that John the Baptist had been martyred for proclaiming his coming. In chapter eleven of John’s Gospel we read of the death of Lazarus. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. Jesus knows the loss of a loved one but he also knows the gift of eternal life. He gives a precursor to that new life in the raising of Lazarus and truly shows us the gift of new life in his own Resurrection.
Each of us responds to the death of a loved one in different ways. We may want to be alone. We come to gather as family and friends to support one another, to share stories in appreciation of our loved one, and to pray that they received the gift of eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom.
When a loved one dies, sometimes the entire focus is put on the Funeral Mass. As Catholics, celebrating the Eucharist is the most important thing we do but there is more to “paying our respects” than just the Funeral Mass. If the death is expected, it can begin with the family gathering with the loved one at their bedside before their death. Otherwise, after the death, one family member calls another and the news spreads in a pyramid one by one.
Often, the first “public” coming together is at the funeral home for ‘Calling hours.’ Here, memories are shared. It is often a time of condolences offered by extended family and friends. It is a time of being there for one another. It can also be a time of prayer.
Then comes the Funeral Mass or Service. As Catholics, this is a time of sorrow in which we seek the consolation of the Lord who knows what it is like to lose a loved one. Jesus says “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It is also a time of the celebration of the gift of life. We mourn because we have lost someone we care about. We share memories at ‘calling hours’ and often at a reception afterwards.
At the funeral we also reflect on the gift of eternal life. When our loved one lies in death, we want to know that earthly death is not the end, that our loved one still lives on. One of the most commonly picked gospel readings for funerals is John 14:1-6. I think the reason is obvious. In this gospel, Jesus promises us that he goes to prepare a place for each of us in his Father’s house. When we lose a loved one is that not exactly what we want to hear?
After the funeral itself, we then take our loved one to their place of rest at the cemetery. This can be a difficult time because it can seem so final. That is why we again pray at the graveside, trusting in the Resurrection and the gift of new life.
Everything about the loss of our loved one can be difficult; the death itself, having to share to the news of their death with others, gathering at the calling hours, the funeral, and the burial. It is not easy but it is a process that has been demonstrated over time to help us grief the loss. Let Faith be our consolation and eternal life our hope.