Tag Archives: death

Homily – Funeral for Shamus Martin

Last week I had what was perhaps the most difficult funeral I’ve ever had. One of our parishioners, a middle-aged and beloved man, took his own life. We’ll never really understand why he did this, but we trust in God’s mercy and turn to Jesus in prayer and in sorrow. The following is the homily I gave for Shamus’ funeral. May he rest in peace.


Loneliness… Have you ever noticed how lonely people are? And I don’t just mean today; people have always been lonely, though I think it’s more severe in our time than it was before. Have you ever wondered why that is, why people are lonely? If you take time to think about, and are honest about it, you’ll come to see that everyone is lonely. Yes, absolutely everyone is lonely.

The great rock icon Freddie Mercury once said: “You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man. And that is the most bitter type of loneliness, success has brought me world idolisation and millions of pounds. But it’s prevented me from having the one thing we all need: A loving, ongoing relationship” (Rock On Freddie, 1985).

You see, that’s because loneliness isn’t a disease, it’s at the heart of the human condition. From the very beginning of Creation, man has felt a certain loneliness, a need for an ‘other’. God Himself said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18). And so God created the animals. But that didn’t suit the man. Then God created woman, and the two became one flesh.

When God created us in His own image and likeness, He created us for union with an ‘other’. Just as God is in Himself a communion of three Divine Persons, so too, has humanity been created for communion. We’ve been created with the need for others, and not just in a marital way, but with the need for deep personal communion with others; it’s part of our design.

Unfortunately, the great tragedy of original sin broke down communion: it broke communion with God, with others, with Creation, and even with ourselves. And it didn’t just break down communion, but even broke down our ability for communion. The joy and oneness of communion now became a sense of isolation and loneliness.

And yet, we still long for communion, we still need this communion, because it’s what we’ve been created for. Now, however, we just can’t seem to achieve it; the other person always remains ‘other’. This is the great misery of the human person.

Well, it’s into this misery that God entered by becoming a man in Jesus Christ. Jesus entered into this misery, lived it out, and even went into its very depths through His Passion on the Cross. Remember His cry on the Cross? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt 27:46). Or the Lamentation we sing on Good Friday: Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow (Lam 1:12b) Jesus entered into the abyss of human loneliness — further, I think, than any of us can even imagine —, deep into the darkness of despair. And He did this so that He might be there with us, in the deepest recesses of our loneliness. He did this so that no one could ever say that they’re too far from God to be saved. As Jesus said, the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10; cf. Mt 18:11).

Jesus has gone to the ends, not of the world, but of being in order to save His lost sheep. This, my brothers and sisters, if God’s mercy! This is how deeply He loves us and desires for us to be with Him. Because the truth of the matter is that while our ability for communion has been compromised by sin, His has not. While our loved ones will always remain distant and separate from us, Jesus makes Himself one with us! This is why He became man. This is why He died on the Cross. This is why He continues to call us to Himself.

Yes, loneliness is at the heart of the human condition, and it will never be completely gone, but Jesus invites us to a unique personal relationship with Him that transcends our limitations, even in this life. We need not hide our loneliness from Him, but rather we need to bring it to Him, because only He can truly understand it. Part of what keeps us apart from one another in this life is that we can’t ‘get inside’ of one another; we can’t read each other’s minds, each other’s hearts. The other person forever remains a mystery, especially if they put up barriers. As the actor Robin Williams once said, “All it takes is beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are”. But we can’t hide this from God, because He knows the depths of our hearts, He knows our brokenness better than we do.

But we shouldn’t hide our loneliness from each other either. Instead, we ought to come together before the Lord in our misery, in our deepest longing for communion. Because in doing so we not only find solace in one another, but we find friendship in Christ, friendship through Christ, which leads to communion with one another. And that, my brothers and sisters, is the heart of the Church! Brothers and sisters who come to Jesus, together in their woundedness, together in their loneliness, together in their brokenness to find strength and hope in Him, and companionship with one another.

While we all face loneliness, no one should face it alone — in fact, no one does face it alone, but Jesus is always with us; in the depth of our brokenness, in the depth of our suffering, in the depth of our darkness, He is there, waiting for us, waiting to bring His light and His grace, waiting to bring us together to the Father. May we never forget — no matter how lonely we may feel — that we’re never alone: Jesus is here. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 5 B

Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Ps 147             R/. Sing praise to the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23

Mk 1:29-39

dying

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives to the Israelites a series of laws and directives. He knows he will die soon, and so he gives them his words of wisdom to help them to follow God. It’s a kind of farewell testament, if you will. In this long discourse, one of the concepts that emerge is what biblical scholars have come to call the theory of retribution.

It basically states that if we obey the commandments of the Lord, God will bless us and we will live in peace and prosperity, but if we disobey God, then we will be cursed by Him and live in hardship and suffering (cf. Deut 30:15-18). Sinners will suffer, but the righteous will prosper. Whether you suffered or prospered, it was because you deserved it. This was an attempt to explain the presence of suffering and evil in our lives. It’s at the heart of the Old Testament, and we even find traces of it in the New Testament.

But the book of Job challenges this doctrine and presents a real shift in understanding. You see, Job, whom the author makes a point of telling us is righteous and beyond reproach, suffers tremendous torments and losses, not because he sinned or offended God, but precisely because he is righteous (Job 1:1, 6-12). His faithfulness to God is tested by the devil, and his sufferings are trials of faith and perseverance. Job suffered not because he did anything wrong, but simply because suffering is a part of life in our fallen state.

With Job, then, the Bible begins a new perspective on the possible value of suffering. In his suffering, Job encounters God in a deeper more intimate way. While he was faithful and committed before, now in his suffering, Job meets God.

Isaiah takes this even further as he speaks of the suffering servant, the special servant of God who will suffer precisely because of his love for and fidelity to God (cf. Is 53).

Jesus ties all of this together in His Passion and Death, as He uses suffering as the means of our salvation.

St. Paul then builds on this to explain how we can join our own sufferings to those of Jesus so as to participate in His act of redemption: I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col 1:24).

Precisely because Jesus shows us His love and saves us through His own suffering, suffering has power and meaning. In fact, we cannot love without pain. The very act of loving, of giving of ourselves to another and making ourselves vulnerable, causes us pain and suffering. But through faith in Jesus, who loves us and died for us, we can give meaning and power to our own suffering by offering it to God as an act of love. By accepting the sufferings that come to us and offering them to Jesus, we can turn them into powerful prayers and occasions of encounter with God.

anointingPrecisely because He knows physical and emotional pain, and that He endured them for us, Jesus is capable of understanding our pain and is present there with us in our suffering. In His compassion, Jesus suffers with us when we suffer. But it’s only by accepting this suffering and opening our hearts to Jesus that we can come to recognise that He is there with us. In this way, then, we’re consoled in our suffering as we experience the presence and closeness of Jesus, and we’re strengthened in faith, in love, and in perseverance. This is part of the message that Jesus gives us in the various healing events of the Gospels, and the reason why He gave us the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: Jesus is closest to those who suffer.

This past Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law that prohibits assisted-suicide in our country. Following the loud cries of a few, it has now made it possible for doctors to kill patients who don’t want to suffer. This should come as no surprise to us, that in a society that’s always looking for pleasure, suffering should be avoided.

Not only does this not respect the dignity of the person, the gift of life given by God, and God’s authority over life and death, it also deprives the suffering person of a special opportunity to grow closer to God. Those who are dying are in a privileged moment of preparation to meet God. Over and over again, as I journey with them in those last months, I’ve seen their hearts change and open to God’s grace and mercy. I’ve seen sinners convert, seemingly faithless people realise God’s love and desire for them, faithful people grow in their desire to be with God, and prayerful people grow deeper in prayer. That time of suffering and dying is a most sacred and special time of preparation to be with God. Murder, no matter what form it takes, deprives the person from that sacred time. And it deprives their families from witnessing this transformation and intimate closeness to God. This is the real sadness in the Court’s decision. And the real perverted part is that they’re doing this under the guise of a right to life.

My dear bothers and sisters, suffering is not useless or undignified; it is human, and it’s a privileged place of encounter with God. As we gather to worship God this Sunday, may we pray for those who are suffering and examine our own relationship to suffering; may we confront our fears and anxieties of death and suffering, turning them over to God, turning ourselves over to His mercy and love, knowing that God never abandons those who trust in Him, those who are faithful to Him; knowing that Jesus and Mary are especially close to those who suffer. When our time comes, may we have the faith to embrace suffering and offer it to God as an act of love to Him and for our families, inviting Him to be with us in our suffering so that we might be with Him in His glory. Amen.

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Following-up on this topic of the importance of the time of suffering and death in relation to faith, readers might find this book interesting: Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line.

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Homily – Sunday OT 33 C


Mal 4:1-2
Ps 98   R/.  The Lord is coming to judge the peoples with equity.
2 Thes 3:7-128
Lk 21:5-19

As the Liturgical Year comes to a close — we have two weeks left —, the Church, every year, invites us to ponder on the ‘four last things’: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.  Already last week we began to talk about the importance of the resurrection for our faith.  And you’ll notice, that from now until Advent, our readings will focus more and more on death and the ‘end of the world’, or the ‘judgement of the world’.

Now, this isn’t meant to scare us: the Church is not a prophet of doom.  Rather, the Church is a prophet of hope, because in reminding us of these things — especially death and judgement —, she’s calling our attention to the most important aspect of our lives.

You see, today’s Gospel isn’t so much about future predictions of the ‘end of the world’, or about the various famines and plagues and dreadful portents that will precede it (cf. v. 9, 11).  Rather, by using what we call ‘apocalyptic language’ — an ancient Jewish literary device that uses images of the end of the world (cf. Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Nahum, Zephaniah, Matthew 24, Mark 13, Revelation) —, Jesus is actually calling our attention to the present.

The key phrases to understand today’s Gospel passage are verse 6 and the first part of verse 9.  The whole talk about persecution and war is rooted in Jesus’ line about the Temple; it’s almost a kind of sidebar or distraction: by asking questions about the timing of the destruction, the listeners seem to have missed the point.  Jesus’ point rather, was that the external beauty of the Temple, its decorations, adornments and stones — which are not wrong; beautiful churches are important —, needs to be secondary to the internal beauty of the temple of our soul.

You see, today’s scene follows the widow’s mite: the scene where a poor widow, out of her love for God, put all that she had (two small copper coins) in the Temple offering; a stark contrast to the rich, who only put some of their extra money in the offering (Lk 21: 1-4).

In connecting the two — the example of the widow’s generous offering and trusting abandonment to God, and the fleeting beauty of the Temple —, Jesus is calling us to be vigilant that salvation is what’s important in our life.  That’s why He tells us in verse 9 to not be terrified: because if we focus on Him, then nothing else really matters.  Riches, physical beauty, luxury… all these things fade and come to an end when we die.  But our friendship with the Lord, our closeness to Christ, the effects of grace: these are eternal!  These are what make us truly beautiful; these are what lead us to salvation.  As such, then, these are the truly important things.  There’s no sense in building beautiful churches if we aren’t first building beautiful temples within us.  That’s why, in the second reading, Paul is calling us to be imitators of him (2 Thes 3:7), so that we might, like him, work tirelessly for our sanctification and the sanctification of others.

But, we have to be careful: salvation doesn’t ‘depend’ on us and our efforts; it depends on God’s grace.  But if we don’t actually seek out God’s grace and open our hearts to cooperate with it — that is, if we don’t make use of the Sacraments (especially Confession and the Eucharist), and if we don’t change our lives to abandon sin —, then we can’t expect God’s grace to magically change us.  It’s a an extension of Paul’s line: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat (2 Thes 3:10b).  If we don’t want to be saved, if we don’t make the changes we need to so as to receive God’s grace, then we shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t get it.  We can’t just go around pretending to follow God.  (Now, I’m not saying this is what you do, but we always have to be on guard!)  As the famous line in the movie “The Nun’s Story” (Audrey Hepburn) goes: ‘you can fool me, you might even fool yourself, but you can’t fool God’.

The Last Judgment, by Stephen Lochner (ca. 1435).

The Last Judgment, by Stephen Lochner (ca. 1435).

The Church invites us in these ‘end times’ of the Liturgical Year to ponder on death and judgment so that we might also ponder on our spiritual life to see where we stand.  Are we ready for judgment?  If I die today, where will I go: heaven or hell?  Is Christ really the focus of my life, or is there something in the way?  Do I really make efforts to live according to the love of Jesus?

Chances are we’re all missing the mark a bit; I know I am!  But this is why we need Jesus!  And this is why Jesus tells us not to be terrified, because the end isn’t immediate (cf. v. 9).  As St. Peter tells us in his third letter: …beloved, while you are waiting for these things [a new heaven and a new earth], strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation (2 Pt 3:14-15).  Jesus gives us this time — this life time — so that we might repent and turn to Him to be saved, and this is itself a gift of His mercy, because He doesn’t want the death of the sinner (cf. Ez 18:23, 32).

But none of us know how much time we have left, so it’s essential that we’re always turning back to the Lord, asking for His mercy and forgiveness, so that the grace He gives us will be fruitful and be working toward our salvation.  Because if we are faithful to Christ, not a hair of [our] head will perish (v. 18), but rather, by [our] endurance [we] will gain your souls (v. 19) and rejoice with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen.

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