Today I mourn the loss of a friend, a diaconate classmate (ordained together on 12-13-2008) a superior homilist and a wonderful, devoted husband, father and grandfather. I rejoice too in the confidence that Deacon Paul is celebrating eternal life with all the saints in heaven. My visit with you Paul last month will forever be a lasting memory of a brother Deacon I admire and love. Well done good and faithful servant. Count on me praying to you for your intercession. And my love to Pam and the family.
Below is a homily Deacon Paul preached just a few months ago. He was so gifted as a preacher and was always able to share himself completely with his congregation.
The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered on June 26, 2021 for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary time year B at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell.
In light of my many health struggles, I find one of this topic so upsetting, so disturbing that it is almost impossible for me to talk about. I start to tear up. So as to not cause an upset here in the Church, I will never, ever preach about … Taxes. However, death… that’s a different story. As people of faith, we should be regularly contemplating our own mortality and future deaths in light of the Christian message of salvation. We should be comfortable with the discussion of death and should grow to accept that it is not something to be feared, but to be understood and embraced as part of our destiny.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus raises a little girl back to life. The raising of Jairus' daughter is meant to bring up the themes of life and death and life and after death - themes that lie at the heart of the Christian message of salvation. In the last two weeks of Gospel readings, Jesus shows that he has power over nature (the wind and the sea), over sickness, and over death. So what do we have to fear? Why is this topic so difficult for Christians? Even though Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, she died again, all the apostles died, you and I will die. It is a certainty.
Most of us do not deal well with death. We avoid going to wakes and funerals . We don’t know what to do or say. We do not regularly speak of it in our homes, so our children and grandchildren never learn how to feel, or what to do or say when someone known by the family dies. Yet, we should not only be talking about death, but we contemplate our own deaths regularly. Let’s see what scripture has to say about that.
From Ecclesiastes 7:4 “Someone who is always thinking about happiness is a fool. A wise person thinks about death.”
Book of Sirach: “In whatever you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin” (Sirach 7:36)
Memento mori (Latin: "remember that you will die") is an ancient Christian spiritual reflection on one’s mortality. It reminds one of the passing, brief nature of this life which ultimately, should, mean nothing to us. Memento Mori used to be very common and generally encouraged. Now we only hear about it for 10 seconds a year…on Ash Wednesday – “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” In the last 150 years life expectancy has risen in the US from 39 years to almost 80 years, so death seems so far away for most. And in a culture that is obsessed with youth and looking young, death has become almost a taboo topic.
For the Saints, however, death was always in the front of their minds. Many kept skulls in their bedrooms as a constant reminder of their mortality. The image of the skull also has been represented in depictions of many saints, including St. Jerome, St. Aloysius, and St. Francis, who used skulls in their spiritual reflection. And keep in mind that the feast days that we celebrate for saints are memorials of their deaths, the day that they were born into eternal life.
There are those who insist that all talk of skulls, and bones, and death is morbid and should be avoided at all costs. This point of view is mainly caused by fear. As Christians we need not be fearful of anything, including our own mortality.
What is the benefit of contemplating our own death? It is related to what we refer to in the Church as the Last Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. No one can avoid death or judgement and our choices in this life determine if we will experience heaven or hell. Daily remembrance of this reality is not morbid; it is actually life-giving, because it reminds us to live well and prepares us to die well.
What is our homework? I suggest two things this week. If the subject of death is on the taboo list in your home, that needs to change. You, your children and grandchildren need to become comfortable with the subject of death from a Christian perspective – as the day we are born into eternal life. Second, memento mori – remember your death.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect formula for the meditation on death. And how you do it from day to day will vary. However, in just a few short minutes, here is one way you could go about it. First, think something along the lines of, I could die at any time. I could die today…tomorrow… next week Am I ready to meet the Lord? If not, it is never too late, not matter what.
Second, imagine yourself on your deathbed or dying suddenly. As you think about death’s inevitability and imagine it, allow your mind to think about it as a real event, not just to think about it in a detached way.
Third, after you use your mind to think about this reality, lift your heart in prayer. Whatever comes up during your short meditation on death, bring it to God. Listen to what he has to say in response to any anxiety and fear that you might experience.
However you might chose to meditate on death, it is important to remember that, for the Christian, prayer is key. Christians do not meditate on death as a dark, dismal end. Jesus died for our sins, saving us from death. In the Christian context, the light of Christ streams through the darkness of death and fills it with the hope of heaven.
God created us for life, to become beautiful, to become more and more like him, until eventually we leave this world and are united to him for always. That is our destiny, this is something on which you can be certain.