Here is the homily for All Souls this year which a few people have asked me to reproduce:
One of my favourite books as a child was an old fashioned anthology of short stories for boys. One of them touched me deeply because it was based on a true story. It told of a family who were moving house when their beloved dog went missing. They delayed the move for days searching for him but, alas, to no avail. The dog couldn’t be found. So, with heavy hearts they moved to other side of the country without him. Hundreds of miles away. Two years later a bedraggled, filthy creature appeared on their porch. Painfully thin but impossibly friendly. They decided to care for the stray dog and so washed the creature. It was then they realised, with shock and joy, it was their dear old dog. Somehow, and nobody can explain how, he had found them. A similar tale inspired the film the incredible journey.
In wider society people often view death as tragedy. But we Christians should think differently because we believe death is not the end but rather the time when we, like that bedraggled dog, finally make it home where we belong. When after that long difficult journey that we call life, with all its bumps and bruises, we can finally come before our master with joy.
Death for us is about homecoming. So we do well to remember that the pain loss and horror of death are reserved solely for those who remain behind. For the departed, who died as friends of God, death is a wonderful moment. Perhaps the best. For it is the moment we meet our master face to face, when having been washed in the waters of purgatory, as the bedraggled dog was washed on the porch, we are made clean again that we might claim our place with the Saints in heaven. As the well known hymn puts it:
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home- what joy shall fill my heart!
Death for Christians is wonderful news then. But that doesn’t mean we can glib or insensitive in the face of death. As stated, for us who remain behind, there is pain. And if you are presently grieving and struggling with death at present, don’t feel guilty. It is not a sign of bad faith. Such feelings are natural, healthy and normal. Jesus, despite full knowledge of heaven, wept at the death of a friend. And we weep too when loved ones die. Taking our place with Our Lady of Sorrows standing at the foot of the cross.
There is such a thing as holy grief. A period when, because we have loved, we experience the pain, loss and suffering of Good Friday. A time to weep with Mary as we too feel the sword that pierces the heart. And Christ is close to those who mourn, they are, he told us, blessed. The first stage of bereavement then leads us to Calvary. To pray with the suffering Christ and stand vigil at his cross. Trusting in his promise that death is not the end.
Mercifully this time will pass. And eventually, as we are healed by grace, we can move on. After the initial horror of death we then enter Holy Saturday. And it is interesting to ask why God did rise on the third not second day. Clearly time between death and resurrection is important. A time of introspection and coming to terms with loss. A time to look back and remember with fondness. A time when God can perhaps seems absent and we wrestle with feelings of hurt and confusion. As did the disciples on that first Easter Saturday.
This time, which can be dark, mercifully passes. Grief is a process not a permanent state. And the miracle of faith is that death is not the end. The dark tomb that seemed so desolate and impenetrable was later blasted open and Christ triumphant rose. Then the angels sang. Then the disciples understood that the grave was but a resting place on a journey home. Eventually the same disciples who wept at the cross and were bewildered on Holy Saturday rejoiced with hearts of hope. In Christ death lost its sting.
Whichever stage on the Easter journey bereavement finds you in, now or in the future, remember to pray for those you have loved, especially in this month of November which is given over, in the Catholic church, to praying for the faithful departed. And in those prayers thank God that, as he told us, his house has many rooms and, even now, he is preparing a place for us.
Finally let us remember today the one certainty in life. I used to say there were two certainties but since giant corporations found ways to stop paying taxes…One day you will die. This life is given to you in order to prepare for this unavoidable fact. Death can come at any moment. Are you ready to stand before God in judgement? Are you ready to give an account of your life? Make sure you go to confession, work hard on your relationships and seek a life of grace. Make a will to ensure loved ones are cared for. Have a funeral plan ready.