NOVEMBER 2, 2003- ALL SOULS DAY: HOMILY- JOHN 11:17-27
I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME, EVEN IF HE SHOULD DIE WILL LIVE FOREVER. The commemoration of the faithful departed that we mark today places all of us in something of the same situation that Martha found herself to occupy when she met with Jesus shortly after her brother’s death and heard him address these words to her. She felt desolate, that is to say, left alone and diminished inwardly. Her first reaction is to reproach the Lord for letting this wrenching death happen: “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died.” Even though we have not experienced the death of a beloved friend or family member in the last few days, as she had, each of us has, no doubt, passed through such a loss and known something of that desolation which takes the joy out of life. We need not search our memory for more than a few moments before we discover there the living recollection of someone much loved who has departed this life, leaving behind an empty place in the soul that no one else can ever fill.
Death of a beloved person leaves a wound that time only partially covers over and never fully heals. Jesus addresses himself to just such a place of sad, painful emptiness in Martha’s heart, and supplies the only efficacious remedy for this kind of suffering. He promises that her brother shall live again. Not satisfied with this, he goes further to assure her that her deceased brother will live forever. “HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME, EVEN IF HE SHOULD DIE WILL LIVE FOREVER”, he states solemnly that he will live for all eternity. “HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME, EVEN IF HE SHOULD DIE WILL LIVE FOREVER.”
St. Bernard was keenly aware of the fragility of our human situation; he refers to it as ‘miseria’, and pointed out that every person in this life is subject to misery and so is deserving of a consideration based on sympathy. Not the sympathy that implies superiority of condition but, on the contrary, that which flows from the experience that we are all confronted with fragilities of various kinds, the chief of which is death. Human love in all its forms, parental, fraternal, filial, spousal, will always in this life be a source of suffering as well as of joy and temporary fulfillment. Sooner or later it must know the desolation of loss through death.
St. Augustine too was sensitive to this universal fragility of our human condition. He spoke of it in a letter to a widow, Proba, in the following terms.
It might seem a strange thing since you are noble according to this world, as well as rich and the mother of such a great family, and not desolate, although a widow, that the attraction of prayer should have taken hold of your heart and laid strong claims to it, but you have a wise understanding that no soul can be free of danger in this world and in this life….Through love of this true life you ought, then, to consider yourself desolate in this world, no matter what happiness you enjoy. (St. Augustine Letters, tr. Sr. Wilfred Parsons, vol. II, Letter 130 [New York: Fathers Church, Inc., 1953] 377, 378)
Jesus gave assurance to Martha that faith in him would bestow life on her brother and indeed on all who would believe in him. He committed himself totally to the promise contained in his words with a phrase that designates his very person. ”I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.” In other words from his very person there emanates the power to heal iur miseries, even the wound of death. He bestows a love that alone is free of that misery which haunts, consciously or unconsciously every loving human relationship. There is no other remedy, no other physician who can provide such healing save he who can bestow eternal life on the body in the resurrection as well as on the soul. Our Catholic faith stands on belief in this fundamental truth. It was this perception that led the translator of the Gospel into Syriac to render the word ‘Savior” by machiana, literally “giver of life.” Jesus, as he himself tells us in this exchange with Martha, does not merely save from death, he confers the true life that is subject to no corruption and so does not end.
This belief we share with Martha, Mary and all the saints who put their faith in the person of Lord. That Jesus is for us the resurrection and the true life makes possible a true love that does not come to an abrupt end with death. This love of Christ is the basis of the hope that we ourselves one day will be joined again with our departed loved ones in the presence of the God who created us for Himself. He is not the God of the dead but of the living. It is His Son who comes to us in the Eucharist and who promised that ‘if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever.” This is our hope for ourselves and for all those who have preceded us in death. May this hope prove to be stronger in each of us than death itself until it finds fulfillment in the day of Christ Jesus, our life-giving Savior .&
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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