Mass of Remembrance – July 28, 2022
Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9; Romans 6:3-4, 8-9; John 6:37-40
Michelle Hord, a creative storyteller and Christian woman of faith whose only daughter was tragically murdered at the age of seven by her estranged husband, penned these words to the parents and families of the 21 victims of the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
“To the latest members of a club no one wants to join, the victims of senseless violence against our children in Texas, I see you. I hear you. I know you. I am you. … Behind each child and town (that has faced such senseless suffering) is a mother, a father, sometimes siblings, those of us who are left with jagged shards of a puzzle that no longer fits together. As the world moves on, you are stuck with the birthdays, holidays, graduations that will never happen, and the painful flashbacks when senseless violence against our children strikes again.
I cannot promise you that it will be easy … today or ever. I cannot promise that you will ever stop trying to violently wake up from this nightmare. But I can promise you that you are still here. And because you are still here, you will survive … despite yourself.
There is no playbook. There is no step-by-step guide for healing. I will not insult you with stages of grief or promises of “closure.” I will tell you that somehow your heart, over time, can expand to incorporate not just this burning loss that feels too big to contain but also new hope, new joy, and new love.”
I thought of so many of you when I read those words. … It strikes me more than ever that so much of what this Mass of Remembrance is about is not solely your need to connect with our loved ones who have died so tragically, unexpectedly and out of the normal course of life. You remember them every day, don’t you? No, we gather this night in faith – in the name of our loved ones – to find a way forward for ourselves who remain.
Perhaps you’ve heard these words before. The great author, Charles Dickens, reflected, “And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!”
Dickens is right, isn’t he? It’s the loss – especially the tragic and unexpected loss – of those whose lives are woven intimately into our own that frightens us, changes our lives, and leaves a void in our hearts beyond imagining.
The loss of the lives that we remember today – in some instances, losses that occurred decades ago – rarely make any sense and really can only be accepted when placed in the context of God’s eternity. That’s why our gathering for this Mass each year – and at every Mass – is so vital. In our celebration of the Eucharist, we affirm the reality of eternity for God’s children – an eternity that flows from faith rooted in God’s merciful and endless love and an eternity that is most clearly reflected in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Listen once again to the words of Jesus. “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. … For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.”
Today’s gospel passage from Saint John is a powerful affirmation of the gift and promise of eternity that provides us with hope for our loved ones who have died. But just as importantly and perhaps even more, it gives us the strength that we need to move from one day to the next with hope for ourselves!
In so many respects, then, this moment of prayer is about us who continue to journey in this world, isn’t it? It’s about us and how we move forward in life with meaning, purpose and peace in the face of loss. Such a focus for this Mass, brothers and sisters, should hardly prompt us to characterize ourselves as being self-absorbed or self-centered. To the contrary, such a focus for this Mass confronts us with the reality of how God best works within our lives. … When we have nowhere else to turn – when we acknowledge that we’re no longer capable of fixing the things that have gone awry in our lives – we finally give God room to step into our lives and to carry us because we can no longer walk on our own.
My friends, we believe with all our hearts that those whom we love and have lost are in God’s hands, don’t we? This Mass tonight, however, asks a very different question. Do we believe that it’s possible for God to take hold of our hands and lead us to peace now – today – as we await reunion with those we’ve lost and loved?
Saint Paul addresses this question rather directly in this evening’s second reading from his letter to the Church of Rome. If we have been baptized into Jesus’ death – if we have put on the mantle of Jesus’ life – not perfectly and without flaw – but with hearts that are open to God, our faith then tells us that we have nothing to fear. … Indeed, our faith boldly asserts that “if we have died with Christ – not just at the time of our passing from this world but also and especially amid the crosses that we carry in life – we shall also live with him, not only in eternity but in this moment and in this portion of our journey of faith.
Pope Francis speaks beautifully to the reality of our broken and struggling hearts. “Faith,” he says, “is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything. Rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God wishes to share this path of suffering with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see light within it.”
We all bring sadness and a pain to this moment. Yet, our faith in Jesus gives us reason to hope. … We have reason to hope because of the support of countless numbers of individuals whom God has given to us for our consolation and peace. … We have reason to hope when we are moved to reach out to others who suffer, mourn and grieve. … And we have reason to hope because of Jesus and the power and promise of his cross, death and resurrection.
My friends, may our faith help us to appreciate that we are united forever, not only to the Risen Jesus, but to the great communion of saints who are a part of his body – the Church – most especially the saints whom we know as our daughters and sons, our husbands and wives, our mothers and fathers, our sisters, brothers and friends who have passed into the eternity of God – and for whom and to whom we pray this night.