SERVICE OF PRAYER AND REMEMBRANCE FOR THE DEAD AND THE BEREAVED
Reflection of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, 2 November 2020
Feast of All Souls
“The Christian Message is a message of life. For the believer, death is not the end. With physical death, our life is transformed and we enter into a new life, in eternal loving presence with God.
Even with faith, however, that is not how we humanly encounter death. I remember well the funeral and burial of my own mother on this day, All Souls Day, 1974. My mother had died unexpectedly just as our family was preparing for the death of my father who was terminally ill. Our reaction was shock, sadness and grief. We went through the mechanics of funeral preparations in a daze. We went from the funeral of my mother to the hospital to visit my dying father. We were simply numb with shock, grief and uncertainty.
The first reading spoke of “the rawness of grief”. It is a human rawness that the hope of resurrection does not easily take away. The rawness of grief challenges us in the depth of our identity and of our faith. What does life mean? Where does death lead?
Grief is one of the most significant moments of human sadness and loss. Yet grieving is good. Grieving is necessary. We tend to forget that Jesus was moved to tears at the death of his friend Lazarus. Good Friday is the moment on which we focus on the death of Jesus on the Cross. It is the moment of the victory not of death, but of love. Jesus took the form of a slave and endured death to show his love for us.
However, Jesus dies pronouncing the opening words of the Psalm 21, “My God, why have you forsaken me”. The moment of deepest love is marked by a deep sense of abandonment.
Jesus has died, yet he remain three days in the tomb before Easter Sunday and his resurrection. For three days, Jesus remains silent. It seems that we are left alone with our grief.
The story unfolds then with the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They too felt that God had abandoned them. He has disappeared from their lives. The Jesus who had been the grounds for so much hope is no longer with them. They move away from Jerusalem. It seems to be the end. In a wonderful talk many years ago, Pope Benedict describes their feeling at that moment as “the death of their hope”.
Then something new happens. Jesus opens out and explains the words of the scripture for them and hope and joy return. That something new means that they have to relearn how they understand what Jesus means in their lives.
Grief challenges us to relearn our faith. It is never a question of ignoring or burying grief or failing to recognise that sense of loss and abandonment. In faith however hope returns.
In this month of November, we remember those who were dear to us and who have died. In some cases, the memory is a recent one. There is always a first time that we visit the grave of a loved one. The intensity of grief is at its sharpest. With the passage of time, grief diminishes, but grief never goes away.
At this short moment of reflection, we remember in particular those who have experienced the grief of the death of a loved one in the harsh conditions and restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Many have been unable to grieve. Many are left to grieve alone due to the isolation imposed by pandemic restrictions. After death, the bereaved return to what had been their house of family love and interaction, but now someone is missing. The house remains empty. My heart goes out especially to the many spouses who in these times have had to experience the emptiness of grief alone and isolated. Each day they awaken alone to the emptiness of grief.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus recovered hope when Jess opened the message of the scriptures of them. In our world today, we as Christian community must be the ones who open the scriptures to those who mourn and are in grief. We do that not as a cold intellectual exercise but through witnessing to the scriptures through the way we live and become people of consolation and hope, through care and, like Jesus on the road to Emmaus, being alongside others as their hearts are troubled.
The Christian message is a message of life. It is a message not of emptiness but of meaning. In this month of November we remember our deceased loved ones. Their departure grieves us but in faith we know that our faithful God calls them to be with him. Their goodness and love remain. Having been nourished in this life at the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist, they are now united with Christ in an eternity of love and fulfilment. Eternal rest grant to them. May we experience their intercession from above and may we experience the consolation and hope that come to us in faith.” ENDS
- Today, 2nd November, Feast of All Souls, the traditional day when we remember those who have gone before us and the beginning of the month of November, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin led a service of Prayer and Remembrance at Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral (10.30am)