- Category: Homilies for 2012
- Published on Sunday, 01 July 2012 20:06
- Written by Fr. Rick Spicer
- Hits: 384
"God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living...But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world and they who belong to his company experience it." So begins and ends our first reading from the Book of Wisdom. I guess that includes you and me, for someday death will be our common experience. Despite our efforts to thwart death, the fact remains that life is a terminal illness.
For some of us, death may come with ample warning, if we are diagnosed with a terminal illness such as Lou Gehrig's disease or certain forms of cancer. For others, death may come as a consequence for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as are the victims of traffic accidents, natural disasters, or violence.
Death touches us many times over when we lose a member of our family, a friend, a parishioner, a neighbor, a colleague at work, or even a stranger. Emotions will often rage through us in the midst of our grief. Many parents have often said when a child dies, "It's not fair!" I agree. There are many times when life is not fair and death's inopportune moment is but one example.
Since God did not make death, I am convinced that God never wills the manner or time of our death either. When my mother died thirty years ago, our family chose a reading from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes to be read at her funeral, which began, "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens; a time to be born and a time to die." That prompted me to see God in a different light.
We are told that God is omnipotent; that God knows everything, but that does not mean God controls everything or decides our fate. How can God do that and at the same time give us free will? God knows the moment of my death, for there is an appointed time for that to happen, but God did not set the appointment, fate did.
Only God knows how death will greet me, but the manner of death I will experience depends not on the choice that God makes but on human choices, mine and those made by others.
Some people blame God when death claims the life of a loved one, so out of anger or grief, they turn away from God. I suspect they never realize that in doing so, they have done just what the author of death, the devil, hopes they would do. As the passage from Wisdom suggests, the devil introduced death as a means to separate us from the love of God.
Since the devil has no creative power, his power lies in undoing what God has done. God wills that we should live forever and live abundantly so the devil will do whatever he can to prevent us from yearning to spend eternity with God. In countless cunning ways, the devil has destroyed the eternal lives of many souls for that is what happens to those who ultimately reject God's will to live this lifetime with love.
We avoid the reality of death as much as we can. The funeral industry helps us gloss over death's stark reality yet we should not be afraid of death. As Jesus said to the little girl's father, "Do not be afraid, just have faith." How I wish I had reflected more on that line when I heard this gospel 30 years ago when my mother was dying! I confess that both my mother and I were afraid and hesitant to talk about what was happening to her. She was dying of heart failure at age 65, perhaps the consequence of smoking for so many years. What might those last few weeks together have been like if we had honestly shared our feelings and hopes as to what would soon happen to her?
Some day, death will be our extraordinary experience, but when that happens, our lives won't end for what Jesus said to the little girl on her death bed, he will say to us, "I say to you, arise!" and we will. Like Jesus on Easter, we will arise from the dead. We will rise from the sleep of death and see for ourselves that God formed us to be imperishable. On that day, our mourning will turn into dancing.
Where we will spend eternity is but one more choice we make daily in this lifetime. Every day we can reaffirm our choice to be in heaven, where we will be imperishable, always rejoicing and praising our creator who formed us in his image. In other words, we can live each day, knowing that we are destined for a life that is better than any that can be experienced here on earth.
Imagine the lowly caterpillar. It is meant to become a butterfly but it doesn't know it. So it glories in its fuzzy coat and many legs and thinks it is God's grandest creature. At its appointed time, it blindly, unwillingly, grudgingly builds itself a cocoon and waits to die in darkness. But only that which is caterpillar dies. The rest of it is transformed into a beautiful butterfly.
And so it is with us. We are not made to be merely human. There is something in us that cries out for another kind of life. We were created to love, not die. The death we fear is just one of many things we have to experience, like eating and sleeping, to fulfill our human potential. As I often said at funerals, death is our transition from a journey of time to one that is timeless.
In our darkest moments, when the devil could find us most susceptible to giving into his sly message that God doesn't really care about us, we must never forget that at our appointed hour, Jesus hopes to say to us, "I say to you, arise," inviting those who want to experience life anew to come alive. He may not heal us in the manner we are seeking here and now, but he will heal us in ways that will leave us wholesome creatures for all eternity. The choice is up to us to accept his invitation.