Life can change in the blink of an eye. “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour,” says Jesus after sharing the parable of the ten virgins. If there is one constant in life, it is the constant presence of change. I recently celebrated the weekend Masses at a parish in South Georgia. After greeting the faithful outside the church (at a distance of course, and wearing a mask), I continued back into the sacristy to remove my vestments. Suddenly a parishioner rushed in to announce that a lady had collapsed in the parking lot and was unresponsive. Along with the Deacon, we hurried outdoors and found what had been described to us. After a few short minutes two ambulances arrived with several police cars. Thirty minutes or so later the lady was pronounced dead at the local hospital.
As a priest, I am consoled considering that this woman received the Body of Christ just minutes before she departed earth. My hope is that the words I preached helped her for the unexpected timing of her passing. In my homily, I invited married couples to remember the moment they first met each other, and to recall how their lives were transformed after that initial meeting. I challenged the faithful to live each day committed to Jesus Christ who transforms with His grace and power. She had attended Mass with her husband and other family members.
Death oftentimes arrives unannounced and unexpectedly inflicting tremendous change in the lives of those who love the deceased. Saint Paul wrote echoing the words of the Prophet Hosea, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” yet as human begins who love and feel, the sting of death cuts deeply through the innermost recesses of our being. The hope of eternal life is a supernatural virtue that Jesus imparts on those who believe: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus asks this question at the death of his friend Lazarus for whom he wept. Martha, the sister of Lazarus, makes a bold profession of faith, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
The reality of death is the final consequence of sin, yet we rejoice that Jesus Christ has broken the chains of sin and death. Death may be unescapable and inevitable, and the change it brings about may be difficult to embrace, yet a prayer from the Funeral Rite expresses that for those who die “life is changed not ended. When our earthly body lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling in heaven.” Death is a change that is easy to accept for the one who dies, but challenging to embrace for those who remain alive. We have received a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Saint Peter describes it as an inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Change destabilizes. The change death brings can strike at the foundation of life. Hope in the resurrection heals and comforts because it reveals that death, as ugly as it may be, does not have the last word.