When we lose loved ones, they do not lose us – America Magazine


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Photo by Claudia Wolff on UnsplashA Reflection for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary TimeReadings: Wisdom 6: 12-16 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 Matthew 25:1-13Baby Julia was only 18 months old when she became gravely ill. Her parents had her baptized. The toddler briefly rallied, only to die a few hours later. Is there a sorrow greater than that of parents burying their child? It seems so cruel; it offends our notion of nature, as though she were required to be just.Early Christians struggled with the very idea of weeping for their dead. St. Paul had told his flock in Thessalonica not to grieve “like the rest who have no hope” (1 Thes 4: 13). Many church fathers labeled lamenting a lack of faith. St. Cyprian said that “no one should be saddened by death.” St. Jerome referenced this teaching of St. Paul when he wrote to rebuke a grieving mother: “This I command through my apostle, that you not grieve for those who sleep, as do the Gentiles who have no hope.” St. John Chrysostom also invoked the apostle Paul: “But you, who expect a resurrection, why do you mourn? To mourn, then, is for those who do not have hope.”Of course, the church fathers were male, celibate and given to asceticism. To my knowledge, none of them ever buried a child. St. Ambrose, however, did struggle with the death of his brother. Granting St. Paul his due, he wrote: But we have not committed a serious fault by our weeping. Not every display of sorrow is a sign either of lack of trust in God or of weakness in ourselves. Natural grief is one thing, sorrow which comes from lack of hope is another.... Whenever a patriarch was buried his people wept profusely. Tears are, therefore, indicators of devotedness, not inciters of grief.Bishop Ambrose then played his trump card, citing Jn 11: 35, the death of Lazarus: “Hence, I frankly allow that I, too, have wept, but the Lord also wept.”There are two realities that we Christians must acknowledge in the deaths of those whom we love. The first is self-evident; the second requires a faith that is the fruit of prayer.Yes, we have suffered a great loss. We can no longer see the face or hear the voice of our loved one. We will never touch them again. Whether suddenly snatched or gradually whittled away, their presence is taken from us. Grieving is our acknowledgment of this loss.Our loved ones who belong to Christ are at this table. We are here in faith; they, in fullness.The other reality requires strengthening before the reality of death. We are the ones who have been left behind. We suffer a loss; our loved ones do not. Unlike the ancients, we Christians do not consign our dead to an underworld, to an existence ever-so-much the less, appropriately spoken of as a land of shadows. No, compared to those who die in Christ, it is we who suffer in half-life.Physical referents are forced upon us who dwell, and therefore must dream, within the limits of space and time. We know that we only meddle with metaphors when we speak of the dead going down to the shadowlands.St. Paul did as well when he spoke of the Christian dead “who will rise first” (1 Thes 4: 16). Paul must speak of rising to suggest that in Christ the dead enter an existence, in every way, greater than our own. We are the souls still locked into a moment, still saddled with a single spot in the cosmos.The saints see more than we do. They know all that they desire to know. They can hear us. They are lost to us, but we are not lost to them. We call upon them, acknowledge their presence every time that we gather for Eucharist. Listen to the prayers of the Mass. Standing in the presence of Christ with all his saints and angels, we address God the Father: And so, Lord, with all the Angels and Saints,we, too, give you thanks, as in exultation we acclaim: Holy, holy, holy...Our loved ones who belong to Christ are at this table. We are here in faith; they, in fullness.Julia’s parents tried to express this in the epitaph they chose for their baby girl. They had lost one whom they had dearly loved, yet they called to mind the martyrs who had died insisting that they surrendered what is less for the sake of the more. You can read what Baby Julia’s parents, a Sicilian couple of the fourth century, wrote if you visit the Mediterranean room of the Louvre.While her parents bewailed her death at every moment, the voice of [God’s] majesty was heard at night, forbidding them to lament for the dead child. Her body was buried in its tomb in front of the doors of the shrine of the martyrs.More Stories from AmericaJesuit tools to help you survive the election (and its aftermath)God, please just give me (and the country) a little patience.What Abraham Lincoln found reading the Book of Job amid civil warTerrance KleinThe Rev. Terrance W. Klein is a priest of the Diocese of Dodge City and author of Vanity Faith.
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