The Psalmist tells us that "seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong." Even today, three thousand years later, that number has not changed much. Our modern medical technology has increased the average a good bit, primarily by making childbirth and childhood more safe, but most of us don't expect to live much beyond that biblical maximum. And when we bury someone who has gone beyond to ninety or even a hundred, there is usually even a little bit of exultation mixed with the normal sadness that accompanies the death of any loved one at any age.
But, by the same token, there is an added feeling of frustration when we must lay to rest one who missed that biblical maximum by several decades -- one who enjoyed, so to speak only fifty or sixty percent of his years. We reluctantly expect to bury our parents because that is the normal outcome of things; but there is an additional sadness when the order is reversed and a parent outlives a child. Ferricetta went through that terrible agony a number of years ago when she laid her son Jimmie to rest, but then went on, herself, to outlive the biblical maximum by a dozen years or so.
Such events, cause us to consider the mystery of life and death more closely: Why did this happen? Why was one singled out for a comparatively short life, while the other lived many years longer? Why her and not someone else? And, since we all must die, is that all there is—is there nothing more—is death the final end of the human person?
The answer, we know, is that God created men and women in His own image and likeness to show forth His glory and to be eternally happy with Him. Even though human beings are material creatures, subject to the breakdowns of all material things, He gave the first human beings extraordinary favors, preserving them from toil and difficulty, and even from sickness and death.
But, as Saint Paul tells us, "through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, and thus death has passed into all men because all have sinned." Adam and Eve disobeyed God and lost all of those divine favors for themselves and their descendants: They would "bring forth their children in sorrow," they would "earn their bread in the sweat of the brow," with "labor and toil," until they "returned to the earth out of which they were taken," for "dust they were and to dust they would return."
If the concept of original sin sounds unjust, one has to remember only that none of us has done any better than Adam or Eve. Even if they had not sinned and lost God's favors for their children, it is a pretty good bet that we would have lost them ourselves.
But, without a doubt, the greatest loss of mankind was the loss of the ability to do anything really pleasing to God. Finite man had insulted an infinite God. At best man could carefully follow the laws of God and not make the situation any worse—but all too often the Law itself became an occasion of sin as people played pharisaical "games" with it, either by seeking to keep it in its letter in preference to its spirit, or by using it as a means of showing off like the Pharisees who kept it elaborately in public in order to be seen by other men.
Man had no gift to offer God that would rise above the mundane—nothing that could bridge the infinite gap between creature and Creator. In fact, his gifts were always something lesser than himself; the sacrifice of a sheep or an ox, the sprinkled ashes of a heifer, or the showbread placed before the Presence of God in the temple at Jerusalem. Sometimes those sacrifices were even the cause of strife, as when the jealousy of Cain caused him to murder his brother Abel, whose offering was somewhat more pleasing to God.
But God had compassion on mankind. Even as he was throwing Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He promised that He would send a Redeemer; that from the seed of a woman would come One to figuratively crush the head of the serpent, and literally crush the power of sin over mankind. In hindsight, we know what Adam and Eve could not know: That "God would send His only-begotten Son, so that those who believe in Him might not perish, but might have life everlasting"—that in the "fullness of time, God sent His Son, made of a woman ... that He might redeem them ... [and] that we might receive the adoption of sons [and daughters of God]."
We must ask ourselves, then: what precisely does this "redemption," or this "adoption" mean? What has it restored of those graces lost by Adam and Eve so long ago?
First, we know that during His public life of three years or so, God's Son gave us some very practical advice about keeping our Father's law: That it was to be kept in spirit and truth by "loving God with our whole heart and mind and soul..." and because we loved God "we would love our neighbors as ourselves"; That we should see Jesus Christ Himself "in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the sick"; That we should not long for the place of honor at dinners and in churches, that we should not yearn for impressive titles, "for whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted!"
Second, we know that our Lord "bridged the gap" between creature and Creator. Jesus Christ was God, the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost, with no human father, of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. God could now look down upon humankind and see a man and a woman more pleasing than Adam and Eve had ever been—man could now look up to God with the knowledge that He was one with us, and that one of us had been His Mother.
Of particular importance, Jesus Christ as both priest and victim was able to offer on the Cross a sacrifice that was greater by far than anything mortal man could offer—not a dove or sheep or an ox, but the Son of God Himself. He was able to offer Himself willingly, not under constraint, nor for the sake of some base gain—with an infinite generosity that made up for Adam's infinite selfishness. He left us the single sacrifice that we renew each time at Holy Mass, the mechanism He gave His apostles so that generations and peoples could stand at the foot of the Cross without regard to time or distance; so that we can witness His Body being given for us and the pouring out of His Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, under the appearances of bread and wine.
And in dying He destroyed death, for on the third day He rose again. And not just His own death did He destroy, but death of those who believe in Him: "We are buried together with Him by Baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead.... we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Our Lord told Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, even if he die, shall live." Maybe even more explicitly, after the multiplication of the loaves, and the declaration that He was the true bread of life, He told us that "it is the will of the Father that whoever beholds the Son and believes in Him shall have everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
In the very finite measure of human affairs, whether we die young or we die old, our life seems to have be shortened—but according to divine measure we will live eternally. The God who conquered sin and death gave Ferricetta divine life as she was "born again of water and the Spirit" in Baptism, and as she lay dying He sent his messenger to sacramentally absolve and anoint her: "whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them"; "anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick one and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him." By the power of the keys of heaven and earth given to Peter, the Church’s messenger granted her a plenary indulgence by the Apostolic Blessing.
In a few minutes, in the preface of this Mass we will hear that "the hope of a blessed resurrection hath shone upon us, that those afflicted by the certainty of dying, may be consoled by the promise of a future immortality. For unto Thy faithful, O Lord, life is changed, not taken away; and the abode of this earthly sojourn being dissolved, an eternal dwelling is prepared in heaven." But first, there are three things that I believe everyone should hear whenever we gather to pray for a loved one.
Obviously, we are here, first and foremost to pray for Ferricetta Jones. We pray that she made good use of the graces God conferred upon her both in life and at the hour of her death, that He has delivered her from the fires of Hell. We pray too that swiftly she will be delivered from whatever purification may be demanded by her earthly imperfections. As we hear in the Book of Machabees, that in light of the promised resurrection, "It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."
But do not forget, that we are also here to pray for ourselves. With absolute certainty, our day will come as Ferricetta's came. We pray that we are properly prepared by a holy life for a holy death; that our promised resurrection on the last day will be one of eternal joy with our Redeemer, and not a threat of greater punishment for a life poorly spent. Woe to the one who dies in his sins; resurrected on that day in a body intended for eternal glory, but condemned to suffer eternal fire.
Finally, whenever we gather to pray for the dead, we pray to them, for even the souls in Purgatory are saints of God; even if they cannot pray for themselves they can pray for us. Remember to make a regular practice of praying for the dead, so that they don't forget to pray for us!
Eternal rest grant unto her O lord. May perpetual light shine upon her. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen!
 Psalm lxxxix.
 Romans v: 12.
 Cf. Genesis iii: 16-19.
 Genesis iv: 1-17.
 Cf. Genesis iii: 15.
 Cf. John iii: xvi; Galatians iv: 4, 5.
 Matthew xxii: 34-40; xxv: 31-46; xxiii: 1-12.
 Cf. Romans vi: 3-11.
 John xi: 25-26.
 Cf John vi, especially 35, 39-40.
 John iii: 1-21; John xx: 19-23; Cf. James v: 13-16.
 II Machabees xii: 42-46.