Browsing Homilies

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 6:1-7 | Ps 33 | 1 Pt 2:4-9 | Jn 14:1-12

We know that saying goodbye is difficult. Just look at the way children often struggle to end a playdate, or how they can just crumble at the end of a vacation; forget kids, any adult at the end of a vacation! And for how many of you is it always a process to say goodbye at the end of the night? My dad: “I’ll be in the car.”

And when company leaves, how many of you remain at the door or outside the drive, waving until someone’s car is out of sight? All of this is a coming to terms with a deeply human lesson that becomes clearer (although not more manageable) with experience: and that is, there is no easy farewell.

Saying goodbye becomes a painful reminder of the fact that we cannot live in those moments of delight forever. We often find our adieus inadequate to the task. Saying goodbye (God-be-with-ye; Adios [to God]) seems too simple, obligatory, and incomplete for the emotions we want to convey from the depths of our hearts.

Death, unfortunately, only amplifies the frustrations inherent in each farewell. Those who are left to mourn the loss of a loved one often feel the shortcomings of the human goodbye acutely, remaining unsatisfied with the way we put our complex feelings into finite words or troubled by a longing for what we know can never be the same again. But the struggle of that final goodbye is not exclusive to those of us who are left behind. Those who have passed on also had to wrestle with the difficulties of saying goodbye to us and almost certainly came to the same conclusion that there is no perfect send-off.

While the limitations of our goodbyes are thus a natural part of our grief, we do not need to be tormented by the possible dissatisfaction with our farewells. Instead, we can take solace in the inspired goodbyes the Gospel relates, viewing them as a supplement, a post-script, to our closing conversations with our loved ones, whether in recent days or years ago.

We just heard proclaimed a portion of John’s gospel that comes from a section known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, a four-chapter section representing Jesus’ last words to those who loved him in this life. A shorter version is a popular option at funeral Masses. Faced with his own mortality, and beset by the same constraints we encounter, Jesus found a way to communicate the words of comfort and compassion that he knew his disciples needed to hear. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he insists. “I am going to prepare a place for you…so that where I am you also may be.”

For we who interpret death through our faith in the resurrection, this farewell can become the last goodbye of our loved ones. Jesus’ words to his friends can be their words to us now, for we believe that a place is being prepared for us by the Lord, so that we can join all our loved ones when, at last, our time comes.

From time to time, I think it’s important enough to remember, that ever since the Fall, when our first parents fell for the lie from evil, that somehow God was against us, rather than for us: ever since then, this hasn’t truly been our home. You and I are on a pilgrimage. Our home remains in paradise for all eternity with the Trinitarian God. There are some among us who simply get there first. They beat us to the finish line.

Just before Lent, and then up through Holy Week, I’ve lost four people I have come to know and love (two in the same week). Later this month, my classmates and I will celebrate the tenth anniversary of our ordination. I went through my files and did some math, and in ten years, I have celebrated 267 funerals (in addition, the very many we’re invited to concelebrate). That averages nearly 30 each year. I’ll admit, it takes its toll: you grieve with those whose loved ones have simply reached the fullness of years and go in their sleep; those who die after suffering a long illness, those who die suddenly without warning, accidents, overdose, suicide, children, infants, and in utero. It takes its toll. And so recently, I found myself needing to remind and convince myself of everything I attempt to put into words when faced with preaching a funeral Mass for a family.

I suspect we have all known and endured great loss. And although language will forever fail us, the only thing I can conclude, is that all that we remember, cherish, and celebrate when faced with a funeral, conveys the heart of the truly Catholic response to the pain of death, which is the conviction that death is not the final word; it does not get the last say; death never wins. Life is changed, not ended.

And as a result, it offers us the one solution that works for every single goodbye; and that is, it offers us the opportunity to turn our goodbyes into the promise of “see you soon!”


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