Mass of Remembrance – July 16, 2020
Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9; Romans 6:3-4, 8-9; John 6:37-40

 It’s fair to say that 2020 has been a year unlike any year that we have ever experienced.  While the losses that prompt your presence here this evening may have occurred years ago, I have no doubt that this year with all of its suffering, isolation, fear and conflict has only served to deepen your pain.

We’ve been buffeted by the harsh winds of a global pandemic that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and here at home, that has stolen our peace and well-being, and that has become a source of anxiety and deep concern.  …  We’ve been forced to keep our distance from one another, spending great lengths of time alone – apart from those relationships that nurture our spirit and bring consolation to our broken hearts.  …  We’ve waved to elderly and infirm loved ones through the windows of nursing homes, unable to hold them in our arms and allow them to feel our loving embrace at a time in their lives when that’s what they need the most.  …  We’ve feared for the well-being of ourselves and those we love and cherish.  …  And it seems as though we’ve lost so many during these challenging months, without even the opportunity to grieve them in a way that brings closure and peace.

Compounding the impact of this unprecedented health crisis in our lives, we’ve experienced another type of suffering in our land during the past few months.  Knowing some of your stories, this suffering is not unlike what you’ve known when loved ones have been so brutally taken by those with no respect for the value of human life.   The suffering I speak of is born from hatred and a discrimination based on appearance, the color of one’s skin, the sound of one’s voice, the place where one lives, the faith which one professes.  It is a suffering rooted in the evil that emerges when one sets aside the values of the gospel that call us to respect every life as made in the image and likeness of God.  It is a suffering that’s based in the erroneous belief that we human beings – not God – are given the right and responsibility to judge who lives and who dies.

And for all of the rationalization that so many attempt to provide in the face of this kind of suffering, those who grieve the loss of a loved one due to hatred, violence and discrimination experience the same sense of pain, anger and even despair that you who gather for this Mass understand far too well.  …  Their lives are forever changed, just like everyone of your lives have been changed by the grief that comes from the loss of the cherished life that you now lift up to God.

2020 has been a year like none other!

The great German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrick Bonhoeffer, who was martyred in one of Hitler’s death camps just weeks before the Nazis surrendered, offered these words about the loss of someone that we love: 

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love.  And it would be wrong to try to find a substitute.  We must simply hold out and see it through.  That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation.  For the gap – as long as it remains unfilled – preserves the bond between us.  It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap.  God does not fill it.  But on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other – even at the cost of pain.”

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 our faith.  Listen once again to the words of Jesus from this evening’s gospel.  “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. …  And this is the will of my Father that I should not lose anything of what he gave me … and that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.”

Jesus’ words from Saint John’s gospel powerfully affirm 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, gives us the strength that we need to move from one day to the next with hope for ourselves!

In so many respects, while tonight we remember our cherished loved ones who have passed from this world and our lives, this moment of prayer is much more about us, isn’t it?  It’s about us and how we move forward in life with meaning and purpose and hope in the face of loss.  This moment confronts us with the reality of how God best works within our lives.   …  When we have nowhere else to turn – when we’re no longer capable of fixing the things that have gone awry in our lives – God is finally given room to step into our lives and to carry us when we can no longer walk on our own.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, who served as superior general of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983, composed this prayer after he suffered a stroke, the effects of which he patiently endured for the final ten years of his life.  “More than ever I find myself in the hands of God.  This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.  But now there is a difference:  the initiative is entirely with God.  It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.”

My friends, those whom we love and have lost are in God’s hands.  This Mass tonight 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?

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 through 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 powerfully to the reality of our broken hearts.  “Faith,” he says, “is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps on 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 himself 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 does indeed give us reason to hope – even and especially in the midst of this challenging year.

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 – the saints whom we know as our daughters, sons, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends who have passed into the eternity of God – and for whom and to whom we pray this night.