This is from my treasury of experience.
This past week, I started my morning by checking my phone. Unlike most mornings, I had received a barrage of text messages the previous night. Although they were a lot, I read each one and recognized that they had been sent by a friend who had recently had to deal with not just the loss of her father, but also other family members, and her spiritual father. In the message, there was pain and anger, confusion and loss, but there was also hope. I read the messages, and in my wry sense of humor, I wanted to say something witty in a naive attempt to cheer her up. Thankfully, I didn't do that. I waited and prayed, I lifted her up in prayer and those she had lost and in my prayer, many of the ones I had lost along my journey came to mind. The centenarian who had worked for the National Biscuit Company, the man who grew orchids, the priest who had served with great zest... and on and on. As I thought of this and of my friend's pain, I kept thinking to the first time I ever felt that kind of pain. I remember it clearly, it was January 1 of 2005. I was in the Novitiate and phone calls were limited to Saturday evenings. The interesting this is that the phone call came around the time we were starting our movie night. We were all gathered around the TV ready for whatever movie it was that were had selected that day. The phone rang, our Novice Master answered, and then called another Brother to the phone. This Brother listened attentively, and I, remained oblivious. It was only after he hung up the phone that he asked to talk to me. "Ricky," he said, "Veronica passed away today." It took a few moments for me to begin to grasp what this meant. Although I wasn't surprised at the death (she was 104), the pain was still very real and very present. I remember going to the chapel and sitting in the peaceful darkness, and then it happened, a flood of emotion, tears and snot came rushing forth. I was a mess and I didn't know what to do. I cried and felt the loss, she was 104 years old and yet, her death was heavy and all too sudden. As I sat in the chapel, crying, one of my brothers came to me and tried to comfort me. In the mess, I spoke of the pain that I felt, and it was then that I realized that this must be love. Before this death, I had experienced the death of three grandparents, but nothing had ever been like this, for the first time, I mourned the loss of a friend, a sister, someone for whom I cared. For the first time, I realized what it meant to love a person in this different way.
From that day, every time I have experienced death or loss, I have mourned, but have also celebrated because of the reality that life had existed and love had occurred. In many ways, the feeling of loss and the pain of death is something that reminds us of who we are and how we have loved. These things are a vibrant reminder of the gift that is loving another person. Whether family or friend, or even a celebrity, our sense of loss is a glimpse of the great love with which God receives us and holds us to God's very self. We are not alone, we are not abandoned, and even in the face of death, love reminds us that we are not ended, but transformed. Yes, these may seem like platitudes that we say to each other in a feeble attempt to comfort one another, but the fact is that as Christians, and really, as humans, we are built for love and it is love that reminds us of the beauty and grace that is entrusted to us by our loving God. In all honesty, the death of a loved one sucks, but as the funeral liturgy so eloquently states: "For those who believe, life is changed, not ended." In some words, the loss we experience is not our end, but a point of transformation. We are changed, not ended, and life and love move us into tomorrow as we encounter God today. In some ways, this is what Lent invites us to consider, not the pain of giving up Coke Zero (or whatever your poison may be) but to celebrate the many gifts that are daily outpoured upon us. We are called to reflect on the gift of life and love. The gift of relationship and redemption, and most importantly, the gift of Christ. So, yes, death sucks, but in death we are reminded of our own life and the hope which is afforded us in knowing the author of life and love. In our encounters with each other, in love, we are reminded that God is here and now, and that in a simple hug or kiss, a handshake or high five, God is present, love is there and we are alright. So, my friend, I cannot take away your pain, but let the loss you have experienced be a joyful and joy filling reminder of the love you posses for it is ultimately that love which offers a glimpse of Love who rose from the grave. Peace to you and know that you are beautiful and you are loved. As always, I love you. Fr. Rick