Mass of Remembrance – July 15, 2021
Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9; Romans 8:31b-35, 37-39; Mark 4:35-41
Welcome to our cathedral for this very meaningful celebration of the Eucharist and this time of remembrance.
For most of us, the days and hours at the end of a loved one’s life are especially poignant and necessary, aren’t they? Normally, we can hold a loved one’s hand, have meaningful conversations, affirm the bonds between us or make amends. When we’re able to practice these types of things, our pain can be diminished a bit. Tragically, however, when people aren’t physically present to say goodbye and to grieve with others, it’s difficult to achieve closure and we can feel frustrated and helpless.
It’s fair to say that this has been the experience of so many of us who gather this evening and particularly for those of you who have lost loved ones during the past year. In my own family, my mother’s sister passed away rather unexpectedly in the first weeks of the virus’s march into our country in early 2020. While she lived for many years and was just a few months shy of her 96th birthday, her passing during the height of the pandemic didn’t afford any of her family the opportunity to grieve and to let go. And so, a year and a half after her death, her children have finally been able to plan a fitting memorial Mass for their mother that will be celebrated on what would have been her 97th birthday in just a few weeks.
Given all that we’ve experienced during the last eighteen months, the pandemic that has enveloped our world has taught many of us a very difficult lesson that some of you, sadly, have come to understand long before the arrival of the coronavirus. Whether someone is 96 or 16, when we lose those we love – particularly in an unexpected or tragic manner – their passing leaves a void that can never be filled and hearts that may take a lifetime to heal.
But there is another more hopeful lesson taught by our experiences of the pandemic that we’d also do well to heed. It’s a lesson, once again, that many of you learned years ago. For all that we are capable of controlling and determining through our expertise, our ingenuity and our determination, none of us can ultimately control life and death. That is left to a power bigger than ourselves – a power we know as God. And that reality, brothers and sisters, is why we gather this night in prayer.
I don’t know that I will ever listen to the gospel story just shared and not think of its proclamation by Pope Francis when the world found itself at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic just before Easter, a year ago. Perhaps you recall that moment when the Holy Father walked into a dark, empty, rain-slicked Saint Peter’s Square to pray and to offer an extraordinary blessing for a suffering world.
The Holy Father likened us to the disciples in the gospel, who were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. The disciples found it difficult to understand how and why Jesus could lay fast asleep in the midst of such a perilous moment in their lives. I suspect that we have all wondered the same thing not just during the course of the coronavirus pandemic, but especially during some of the more challenging moments that we’ve all experienced throughout our lives – moments that still bring us to participate in this Mass years after those whom we remember this night were taken away.
Jesus’ response to the disciples – and us: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
Pope Francis, in his reflections on the gospel passage, stated, “faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation.” … Faith begins when we are humble enough to acknowledge that by ourselves, we are not self-sufficient. … Faith begins when, as Pope Francis reflected, we “choose what matters and what passes away, separating what is necessary from what is not.”
Every one of us who has struggled to make sense of tragic events in our lives has, at one point or another, come to the realization that faith, no matter how intense, does not become a shield that protects us from suffering, pain and grief. It didn’t spare Jesus from the pain and agony of his cross, despite the fact that he prayed on the night before he died that the cross would pass him by. It will not spare us!
But the cross of Jesus also reminds us that the sorrows we endure can be meaningful when united to the sacrificial death of Christ. Jesus knows what it is to suffer, to be rejected and abandoned, to experience the desperation of terrible pain and even death. As such, the pain and adversity we experience does not distance us from God. No, to the contrary, he is with us in our distress. When we embrace our crosses, no matter how distasteful they may be, we invite Jesus into our pain and are given the opportunity to be enveloped by his love for us. Once wrapped in his loving embrace, we’re also given the promise of life and eternity through our participation in the great mystery of our faith: the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.
That’s why we pray together this night, brothers and sisters. We pray because, as Pope Francis has reminded us, we believe in the power and strength of God: “turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity to our storms, because with God life never dies.”
“With God, life never dies.” Therein we discover the heart of our faith and the reality of why we remember so intensely our loved ones who have passed.
Brothers and sisters, moments like this Mass are blessed opportunities for us to remember, to give thanks, and to celebrate our faith that assures us, as does Saint Paul in our second scripture reading this evening, that nothing can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not long ago, quite providentially, I came upon words from Helen Keller that touched me deeply and spoke powerfully to me about this time of prayer and remembrance, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
While not one of us in our cathedral this evening wouldn’t give all that we had to see and touch our loved ones who have passed just one more time, through God’s grace and mercy, they are now as close to us as our very hearts. May their presence which we feel give us peace and may we walk with them in hope.