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Commemoration of the Faithful Departed

1. Wisdom 3, 1-9

  • The souls of the just  This doesn’t sound like a reading for today, the day for us second class citizens who will be sentenced to do wind sprints around Dante’s Mount Purgatorio.  My gaze on the assembly says it all.  All of us in the assembly may think we are “mere specks” in the world, as my wife always says.  But not in God’s eyes!
  • In the hand of God.  I catch the pentameter at the end of the sentence and I am reminded of that verse in Hamlet: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends.”  Let me rehearse the whole reading in that kind of memorable rhythm.
  • They seemed (in the view of the foolish) If I could classify the reading in terms of a newspaper (e.g., news report, advertisement, feature, opinion), I would call it an op-ed piece.  Opinion writers try to tie experiences together, go beyond appearances and express reasoned judgments.  Well, here I have a judgment based on faith.  So I can say dead, affliction and destruction as my initial reaction to a senseless slaughter.  Many of us say “O, had they but lived…” in the face of an untimely death.  But we look through our own eyes, not God’s.
  • They are in peace.  No, our death is not the end of all that is dear to us, but the beginning of Shalom.  I should pause here so that everyone can hear it.
  • Their hope is full of immortality.  Who is listening?  Does my God bless earthly good fortune, or are we rather called to a deeper and longer perspective, to a love of neighbor that knows no limits?  That is what immortality meant to the sage who wrote Wisdom.
  • In the time of their visitation  I should pause here.  What meaning do I want my listeners to take from this?  Certainly not the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, or visitation rights for a separated spouse!  It is God visiting with judgment, with vindication.
  • Those who trust  This is one way we love God, by persevering in the many promises.  And God is truth(fulness) and love.  We are not memorizing catechism formulas here but living them, abiding with him. 
  • Climax: God tried them and found them worthy.  Their misfortunes and death had a purpose.  The evening we were rehearsing a song of mine on this theme, a priest acquaintance told me he could never accept the idea that God brings misfortune on anyone.  I think he was reacting to the fatalism that thrives among the people he often had to counsel, but he missed the point of this reading.  The sage deals with the “God’s eye view.”
  • Message for our assembly: It is a reading for the whole church, called to holiness.  We don’t get to pass up a quick trip to heaven.  God is our destiny.
  • I will challenge myself: To alert the assembly, to remember fondly our place in the hand of God.

2. Romans 5, 5-11

  • Jesus Christ takes the lead, according to the apostle.  What are we?  Do I believe the litany I hear: still helpless, ungodly, still sinners, even enemies!  Am I lovable, are we lovable?  God proves his love for us.  
  • And then listen to all that has happened to us, the passive voice over and over: justified, saved, reconciled, once and a second time.  Let them roll off my tongue so that we will all know that we boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We owe it all to Jesus, who has reversed our bitter fate.  We are no longer godless but justified.
  • In the words of the apostle, our deaths do not end everything.  How much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  We remain among the community of believers and we carry on his life and example. 
  • The message for our assembly: Nothing in our experience on earth can prepare us for such an abundance of love.  Many of us know that we would be willing to give our own lives for our spouse, our children, a dear friend.  We may even know someone who died for us.  And as I say one might even find courage to die, I look on my listeners tenderly and they look back on me knowingly as if to say: “You got that right!  That one is me.”
  • Climax: Jesus is God’s gift to us.  Christ died for us. 
  • I will challenge myself: To remind everyone in my hearing that God acts first in everything.  Our calling is to boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

2. (alt.) Romans 6, 3-9

  • We were baptized into his death.  It is a day on which we are reminded of death.  But as we approach Christ in the Gospel our joy should be building.  And I’m going to be ready to hold my own, with help from the apostle.
  • Paul does not disappoint.  He is rebuking those of his listeners who are still attracted to their former lives.  “We have left all of that behind!”  Death, burial, freedom from sin: Paul’s images could not be more radical or final. 
  • My role in it is that of a keynote speaker pointing the way to Christ.  Where he went so also we go, into a new life.  I call my assembly to follow our Savior and be one with him and God through our lives and our deaths.
  • I will take our assembly through the harrowing events of Christ’s passion and death in the words of the apostle: crucified with him, buried with him.  And with even more intensity I call to our minds his resurrection from the dead.  We are united with him in the resurrection, living with him. 
  • Climax: The summing-up words Christ dies no more that come at the end of the reading.  We believe in the resurrection, ours as well as his.
  • The message for our assembly: The apostle’s lesson applies to those who were baptized.  The death that we celebrate today is no less real.  I will make that clear by the way I take the word to the entire assembly, sweeping across it with my gaze from left to right.
  • I will challenge myself: To echo in my voice the celebration of newness of life.

Gospel. John 6, 37-40

  • Everything that the Father gives me will come to me.  I do not hear any limits to God’s love here.  It is a steady drumbeat than should enter our souls, steady rainfall that gradually loosens and refreshes the earth.  Go on listening.
  • I will not reject anyone.  Such assurance needs to be shouted.
  • I should not lose anything of what he gave me.  No room for maneuver!
  • Climax: Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have life.
  • Message for our assembly: Will we see God in this man Jesus?
  • I will challenge myself: To learn the way to repeat these promises with even greater assurance as I proceed through them.

From Word to Eucharist: Today more than ever we need to find ourselves in a very long procession of sinners, past, present and future, who come to Jesus for new life.

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