Homily for All Souls Day, 2019
Today is one of those days I do not know what to say to you. And I sincerely mean it. It is one of those days I struggle. I struggle because I am grieving. I have lost loved ones: relatives, friends and parishioners. It is in many ways a sad day. As I recall the good memories, I shared with them, it dawns on me that they are gone. I carry within me this irreplaceable loss. “O death, where is your victory? Death, where is your power to hurt?” (1 Cor. 15:55). I question and cry.
But Paul goes on, “Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law” (verse 56). And what is sin? It is simply turning our back on God. So, the death of our loved ones hurts, and hurts deeply when we turn our back against God. However, hurt is changed to hope and hope to love when we turn to God; bringing to Him our loss and the painful memory it evokes. This is what we gather to do. This is what All Souls Day is about.
Perhaps, today is one of those days we all have something to say to each other. It is a day we gather to share our memories, to tell the stories of our loved ones. No doubt, we are here today because they had something to do with us. Some of them went out of their way to care for us, to inspire us and support us. For them, we thank God. Some corrected us, told us the right thing to do and some even went as far using the belt. For them, we thank God. They are our now memories.
While we may grieve over these memories, we should remember we grieve because we love. And for those we loved deeply, our grieving may be more hurtful. Some of us may have to grieve over our loved ones longer than others. And it is ok to grieve. It is ok to allow those tears welling up to drop. It is ok to even cry. Truth be told, something has happened to us. And that which has happened is not ok. Let us grieve. But let us grieve in the presence of Our Father.
Is it not what children do? Yes, they gather. They gather around their father. They grieve before him. they pour out their hearts. They say it as they feel. There is no shame. They are not afraid. They ask for comfort. They ask for healing. They speak to their father because he loves them. But more importantly because he can feel their pain and he too is hurting. If our earthly father could understand our pain, how much more Our Heavenly Father? This is why we are all here.
We are here to pray for our loved ones. We are here to listen to Our Father speaking to us. Perhaps, He may whisper to you, to me, do not worry; Margaret, Peter, Mary, Daniel, Liz, Greg, are with Me in heaven. Or we may hear, our loved ones still have some purging to undergo. He/she is in purgatory. Keep praying for him. Keep bringing her to Me, for during her lifetime, she was far from Me. However, out of mercy, I have given her/him time to come close to Me. Pray for her.
The Mass is the Supreme Prayer. We bring to Him alongside the bread and wine, the memories of our loved ones. We place them on the altar so that He will take them, bless them, break them, transform them into His Own Body and then gives us His Own Memory – The memory of hope, the memory of His life, death and resurrection. The memory that assures us that though they have died, life is not ended but changed. So, some day we shall reunite with them.
This new memory, the memory the Father gives us at Mass becomes our memory. It becomes the memory with which we remember our loved ones. The memory that helps not to settle for the blow death has dealt us, but to look forward, to live. It is the memory that challenges us to use our grief as fuel to fan the embers of love. It is the memory that sends us forth to honour our loved ones by living the kind of life the Father is asking us to live. It is the memory of the call.
So, today, we gather to remember, to pray and to also accept our calling. For some of us, this call may be gratitude. Like our own St. Mary of the Cross Mackillop said, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” Maybe it is time for us to be more grateful, to stop whinging about what our loved ones deprived us, and to start looking at the good they did. Perhaps, we may come to appreciate them better and the enormous sacrifice they made despite their limited resources.
For some of us, our calling today may be forgiveness. There is still stuff bothering us. And we cannot let go. Our departed relatives hurt us, they hurt us badly. We have tried, but the hurt is proving difficult to heal. Each time we remember them, something in us dies. Our joy turns to sadness. We do not know what to do. Our Father is calling us to pray repeatedly the prayer His Son prayed on the Cross, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Still, for some of us, our calling today may be to prayer. We may have been struggling in our prayer. Their names keep coming to mind, but we are still too angry to pray for them. Today, Our Father is calling us to see more than their wrongs. He is calling us to pray for them. Prayer unites us with them, and, in that unity, we come know the truth. It is the truth that heals. It is the truth helps us to appreciate them. It is the truth that helps us to forgive them and be forgiven.
Finally, on a day like today, it is important that we think about our own mortality. What if death comes knocking on our door, how do we want to be remembered? I like the way Steve Jobs puts it, “If you live each day of your life as if it is your last, one day you would be damn right.” There is wisdom in living with a sense of the immediacy of death. It helps us to sieve out what is unnecessary and to focus only on what is necessary like gratitude, forgiveness and prayer.
Fr. Francis Afu