Wisdom 3: 1-9; Romans 8: 31-35 and
John 6: 37-40. (You can read any book from the bible on the US Catholic bishops website at www.USCCB.org and click on the "Bible" link) Thanks everyone for reading - and sharing this homily on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Appreciate the support and your feedback and comments.
As we remember our beloved deceased today and in a special way throughout the month of November, we pray - Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, And let the perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.
About two weeks ago, the NY Post, a newspaper that is known for their provocative headlines lived up to that reputation once again. “Cellphone text ‘from the grave’” it read over a picture of two relatives holding a cell phone in front of a graveyard with a picture of a text message that seemed to show how their deceased grandmother had texted them - which was followed by a second headline which said “The line went undead.”
The story details how in 2011, Sherri Emerson’s grandmother Lesley died of cancer. Sherri had placed her grandmother’s cellphone inside the coffin with her before they closed it for burial and then begged the phone company not to give away the phone number so that she could continue texting her grandmother. She and her grandmother had communicated a lot through texting while she was alive, and Sherri had kept all the old messages she had with her. The phone company promised that they would honor this request and for three years, Sherri would send her grandmother text messages every once in awhile when she was missing her, or wanting to share some news with her.
Back in September of this year, Sherri received quite a shock. One Wednesday evening Sherri texted her grandmother sharing some things about her family life. The next morning she looked down at her phone and saw a response, seemingly from beyond the grave that said: “I’m watching over you, you’ll get through this, you’ll be alright.” After being shaken and traumatized, she and her family were able to discover that, unfortunately, the phone company had released the phone number and this man who had received the “new” number thought someone playing a prank on him...which is why he responded. Sherri explained “Obviously we know that Nan wasn’t ever going to reply to our texts. It was just something we did as a comfort for ourselves, because she loved to text. You can imagine what I was thinking seeing a message flash up from her.”
Many people, not even knowing Sherri or her family, were just heart broken for them reading or hearing that story. Because while the idea of burying a cellphone with a departed loved one and texting them is probably a somewhat new and unique phenomenon – the desire, the wish, the hope to connect with our loved ones who have died and passed away is probably one of the most universal things we share as human beings – no matter what your religion, culture – no matter what era you lived in. If we look at some of the most spectacular tourist sights of the world – for example - The Taj Majal in India; The pyramids in Egypt – are actually tombs built thousands of years ago. These majestic edifices are ways that these individuals kept their memories alive - generations after anyone who ever knew of them had passed away. We do similar things right here on campus as we name buildings (Blanton Hall) for the same reason. Some people struggle so much with the loss of loved ones and want to know that they are safe, that they are okay that they buy into people who claim to be “Mediums”- who claim to be able to contact your deceased loved one and speak back to you. That always bothers me - that these so-called “mediums” would prey on people who are mourning and grieving an are vulnerable...not that people want to connect with their deceased loved ones.
Every year on this day - November 2nd, the Church celebrates what is called “All Souls Day - The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.” It’s of such importance that we break from the regular routine of Sunday Mass readings that have been following in sequence since the end of the Easter Season (probably about 16 weeks). What we are doing is answering that human desire to connect with our deceased loved ones with the eyes of faith.
There is nothing more painful or difficult to endure, to face then death (although I do remember Jerry Seinfeld making an observation that a survey once said people feared making public speeches more than death, which if that was true, people would rather be the deceased than the one giving the eulogy) All kidding aside, death is frightening. But as Catholic Christians, we’re encouraged, we’re reminded by these readings and this commemoration of All Souls reminds us that our connection to our departed brothers and sisters in the faith isn’t maintained in memorializing buildings, or looking for signs or messages from the beyond.
The Hebrew Scriptures we heard in the first reading, from the book of Wisdom confidently proclaims: The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.
That’s hard to believe without them physically here with us. But is our relationship solely based on physical realities? We have never experienced the perfect peace described. We live in a world where we feel the pain of loss, hurt, anger and more. It's hard to imagine the constant joy of eternal life. The whole reason we mourn, we grieve, we miss people is because of a spiritual gift - which is Love. We have spent a lot of time loving the people who have gone before us. They became a part of our everyday life and when they are taken away, there is a void that is not easily filled. That’s why St. Paul’s words are so comforting. Paul who’s entire life was transformed in meeting Jesus Christ after he had been risen from the dead - Paul who because of that conversion suffered rejection, torture, and eventually would be beheaded for following Jesus Christ, tells us:
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The joy of Jesus is what we have today. We can claim that peace in our lives knowing what is before us in life and death. We know that we will not be separated from the love of God. That is a promise. We must make the choice of believing it or not.
All of that leads to the Gospel, where very simply Jesus as he reminds us that his entire mission, his whole reason for coming to earth is to proclaim the good news that “the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.” It's a promise.
The Church gives us these readings to remind us that the connections we’ve made in life are God’s gift, His blessing to us here and now. As we remember our loved ones today, and pray that they are beholding God in his glory - we are entrusting them to His loving, merciful care. It may be difficult to trust this at times, but the Bible encourages us to keep believing and trusting. We were connected to them in life. There is still a connection. Although different, through God's merciful Love, we continue to be united with them, both in this life and the next. They have impacted our lives and we are who we are by our loved ones' influence. We continue to live their legacy left behind. Our choices are influenced by our experience with them in this life. Not only do they “live on” inside of us, but they are truly living the life right now with God. The good news is that there will be a day when we will join them in this wonderful eternal life. No more tears, no more pain … only joy. It's a promise.