November 9, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Our final goal is union with Jesus in the Father’s house

The Church dedicates the month of November as a time to remember our deceased loved ones in special prayer.

Some may need our intercession so that their time of purification in purgatory might be shortened. Some, because of the holiness of their lives while among us, surely already enjoy the beauty of “the Father’s house.”

We think of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, for example. But we also think of loved ones of our own family who surely have entered the Kingdom without a passage through purgatory. One never knows, but I like to think of my mom and dad in that way.

Other situations are more than hopeful. Some 20 years ago, I was offering a home Mass for family friends whose 4-year-old son and brother was dying of terminal cancer.

While seated during that Mass, the 4-year-old wordlessly climbed onto my lap and stayed there for the rest of the Mass. It seemed as though he was already sensing the presence with Jesus that would be his for eternity. He went home to God shortly after, leaving behind a sorrowful family.

A couple of weeks ago, a Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School senior was struck down by an aneurism while at a downtown restaurant with young friends. I didn’t know the young man, but I know his grandfather. His vital organs were donated so that other people could continue to live. As we pray for his bereaved family, we also pray with confidence that the door of the house of the Father was open to welcome him.

Those of us who have lost elderly parents know that however much we thought we were prepared to let them go, we miss them and continue to miss them. This month is a special opportunity each year to give some quality reflection in memory of our loved ones and to hold them in prayer.

Death is a mystery, and it is a reality. It tests our faith, and it causes us to realize what a gift our faith is.

I will never forget that during the wake of a tragic and untimely death in our family, an old family friend said to me, “Bishop, we have to dig deep on this one.”

Our faith was tested, but we were also saying to each other, “Thank God for the gift of our faith.” What do people do who have no faith?

Only in the Kingdom will we know why God allowed 4-year-olds to get cancer and die. Only in life hereafter will we know why God permitted high school seniors to be struck down by a blood clot or some other tragedy.

What we do know is that our final goal is union with Jesus in the house of the Father. We also acknowledge that for a lot of reasons we can lose sight of that ultimate goal. For sure, with the mystery of death all around us, we are reminded to keep our eyes on the real goal of life.

Because, on the surface of life, death seems like the end of everything, it is a cause of fear. Our faith assures us that we have no reason to fear death if we try to live a good life. Even from a purely rational point of view, it seems only sensible that if God created us with a mind and heart that yearns for immortality, the fulfillment of our yearning is possible. Of course, happily, that natural reasoning is supported by God’s revelation in the Bible and in the life and teaching of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Death can be a moment of grace for those of us left behind. I offer examples of how we can ask our loved ones to intercede for us. Concrete evidence of the impact of John Paul II’s passing is witnessed by hand-written notes left at his tomb.

A young man wrote: “I see the world and my life through new eyes. I have discovered that I must learn to accept life’s problems as Jesus carried his cross: without hatred, without anger, but with love and maturity … as John Paul II carried us! The Kingdom of God unquestionably exists: he showed us this … and this is no longer a mystery for me. Thank you, Pope John Paul II!”

Another wrote: “Beloved Pope John Paul II, I believe that you, looking down from heaven upon the many children suffering on Earth … will bring their tears to the Father and do all you can to help them! Help me to become holy like you did!”

A priest wrote: “I ask you for the grace of my ongoing conversion. May my heart burn always with the only love worth living for: that of Jesus Christ!” †

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