Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Homily at the Guild of All Souls Annual Requiem in London 12 November 2009

What we are about tonight is an act of Hope. At this time, we stand facing death. Death is mystery, but not mystery on its own; it is part of that wonderful mystery that is God. People take different approaches to death; they have since the dawn of time. Some hold some kind of afterlife in the underworld. Others in the collective memory, others, especially in our times, hold that death is the end of the story. As Christians we have the way that Jesus pointed to us, we have the richness of Revelation, of Tradition and of the teaching office of the Church Catholic to face death and the way we face it is firstly in hope.
Through the resurrection Jesus has defeated death once and for all. The first Christians could exclaim with Paul: “Where o death is thy sting?” Death has no sting for the Christian. Through death, the soul with its own free will and understanding will shed the body, that body created as temple of the spirit in the fight against the murky waters of sin and death. The soul free from temptation, from the pull of spiritual gravity towards sin and in a new state will see itself as it really is. With the Christian understanding, the soul will see the foolishness of wasted opportunities, the foolishness of choosing self-will rather than the will of God. In that reality, the soul will shed tears of cleansing grief that will be like a purifying fire. This prepares the soul to enter into the full vision of God and this is what we understand by Purgatory. Purgatory is a state of realisation and recognition. The dimension of life in its fullness will be given, the possibility of total unity with God offered and there will be a time to prepare to share fully in this life which we see as in a seed in the mighty event of Easter. So death is the passage to the fullness of life, the life in which all is possible and will happen, the life of the blessed, the life of fulfilment which we can see through the hope given to us by Christ. Our hope is so strong that facing the utmost bitter and bleak reality of death we can say: Where o death is thy sting? Not even death can separate us from Christ, in fact, death is that wonderful gate that brings our life to fullness, to that beatitude to which we were created in the first place but dismissed by our wrong choices. By his death, Jesus gave us life; through our death, we too, like him, will gain life everlasting. Through his descent into hell, Jesus gave true life to those who waited in hope for their fulfilment. Through this Mass, as in every Mass, Christ makes real the reason of our hope in the face of death.
What we are about tonight is also an act of Faith. The glorious symbols of our Faith, the Apostles Creed and the one we recite in Mass coming from the councils of Nicea and Constantinople end with a resounding, joyful conclusion that give the bearing of our final destination: I believe in life everlasting. So wonderfully explained in the immortal cadences of the sequence Dies Irae written by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century, today we proclaim our faith during this Requiem in the everlasting life that will achieve its fullness in the second coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead. Today we anticipate the day when purgatory will cease to exist, when all creation will achieve its fullness in Christ through whom and for whom it was created. Tonight we declare our faith that in joyful expectation we await his glorious coming, as together with the blessed souls of purgatory we await the end of time and the beginning of eternal perfection. If in hope we pray for those undergoing individual judgement in purgatory, in faith and with them we look towards the day of wrath when:
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
all creation is awaking,
to its Judge an answer making.
Tonight we proclaim our Faith in that day that only the Father knows its hour. On that day through his son, God will pronounce the final word on all history, then and only then shall we know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation. On that day, which tonight we anticipate and proclaim, God’s justice will triumph over all the injustices committed by his creatures, love will vanquish death and the primeval chaos will be no more. On that day, even our frail bodies will be vindicated. On that day, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness, heaven and earth will be made new and the righteous will reign with Christ forever. There all tears will be wiped away from our eyes; there we shall glorify the Lamb that was slain forever. Jerusalem the Golden awaits us and it is in that heavenly city that we make our act of Faith tonight. Indeed, enlightened with this light of Faith our cry is even bolder: Where O death is thy sting? Walking through your dark gates o death we rejoice as we see the pure light for which every inch of our existence aches where God will be all in all in eternal life.
What we are about tonight is also an act of Love. Through her prayers, her funeral rites and the religious acts offered for the dead, holy mother church not only teaches us about the afterlife but also celebrates what we call the communion of saints. If our hope and our faith show us that love is stronger than death, then death cannot destroy the bonds of charity between us and the faithful departed. In fact the communion of saints is the golden bonds of love which unite us the Church Militant with the Church Triumphant and the Church Expectant. The saints in heaven watch over us by their prayers and instruct us by their teaching and example; the holy souls in purgatory, with us, join the saints in praising God and assist us by their prayers and we, as we are doing tonight, join the Church Triumphant, in praising God and praying for the Holy Souls that are getting ready to enter the beatific vision. Our prayers for them, our care for them, our remembering them is the sacrament of God’s love that transcends time and space and makes us the living body of Christ here on earth and beyond. In short what we celebrate tonight is the Church Catholic, willed by God since the dawn of time, its vision marred by sin, refreshed by Christ, bought by the price of His precious blood, spreading its Easter joy here below while already living in those halls of Zion, all jubilant with song united in Hope, Faith  and Love. Ultimately, Love is the eternal law of the kingdom and our love on earth will be the measure of our sharing in God's glory in heaven. It is in these promises and marvellous mysteries that our hope essentially consists, our faith nourished and our love flourishes. As we celebrate this Holy Mass we almost touch that “time out of time” where there will only be the Church Triumphant and it will raise its cry of adoration to God through, with and in Jesus, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour belongs to God and on that day will be ours also unto the ages of ages.
Indeed: Where O death is thy sting?

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