"Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?"
The most disruptive event in anyone’s life is, arguably, the death of a loved one. It may be a little easier if the deceased is older, rather than younger—a little easier if the death is the result of a long illness, and can be seen as a relief from suffering, rather than the result of an unexpected accident—a little bit easier if we have had some time to confront and accept an imminent death, rather than to have it come upon us without warning. But, nonetheless, the loss of a loved one is about as disruptive as anything gets in our human experience.
There is the discontinuity of a person’s life being radically changed as he becomes progressively less able to do the normal things of life. Physical activities become difficult and even exhausting; even mental activities are disrupted by pain or by the remedies for pain, and perhaps even more so by the anxiety of not knowing precisely what will happen or how long it will take. These things are painful for the dying, but also painful for any decent person who is involved.
Then there are the social discontinuities. Knowing that the familiar face that has been around as long as anyone can remember will no longer be there. Knowing that a person to whom we went for advice, or encouragement, or amusement will never again welcome us at her door—that her voice will not answer the telephone should we call to share a few minutes.
All of us will grieve at loosing Momma Lolita. Depending upon how close we were to her in life, a larger or smaller piece of our own lives will be missing, and will never be completely replaced. It would be wrong and foolish not to grieve over loosing her—particularly those in the immediate family—you should go and cry for a while if you feel inclined to; it is good for you.
But we should not lose sight of the fact that in the midst of what seems like the ultimate disruption there is a sure and certain continuity that endures in the life of Orosia Cortes. It is part of human nature that as we get older our bodies gradually cease to function as they did when we were young. The human body is a material thing, and like all material things it is subject to breaking down and wearing out. But we men and women are more than just what makes up our physical bodies. The part of us that enables us to think and to love—the part which Christians call the “soul”—is not a material thing, subject to breaking done and wearing out. The soul is a spiritual thing that must exist forever like the angels. Indeed, when we say that we are “made in the image of God,” as it says in the Book of Genesis, we are affirming that spiritual part of our nature that was created to be like God and with God in all eternity.[i]
In our first parents, Adam and Eve, God gave mankind a special relationship with Himself, raising us, His creatures, to the status of His sons and daughters. We know that Adam and Eve lost that status for us through original sin—but we also know that we have been redeemed through the sacrifice offered on the Cross on our behalf by Jesus Christ, the true Son of God. We know, as well, that our Lord left us seven Sacraments, which enable us once again to live a spiritual life with our Father in heaven.
Understand, please, for this is very important, that eternal life with God begins long before death. Eternal life, in fact, begins with Baptism, when sanctifying grace fills the soul and enables us to share in God’s divine life. At holy Mass we hear that through Baptism and the other Sacraments we “become partakers of His divinity, Who humbled Himself to become partaker of our humanity.”[ii] And we know that Momma Lolita was a devoted partaker of that divinity. Even in her last illness she and her daughter assisted at Mass as often as humanly possible—it was plain to see that it was quite exhausting for her. She received her Lord in Holy Communion only a couple of days before her death.
But, again, this spiritual life did not begin in old age. It was not the product of illness or the fear of death. God’s relationship with her has grown and grown for years:
@ In Baptism, God washed away every stain of original sin, and infused His divine life into her soul.
@ When she fell, He heard her Confessions and restored her baptismal innocence. “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them.”[iii]
@ Through holy Matrimony she has brought many descendents into the world—many other souls created in the image of God. (I once had the privilege of standing in a hospital room with five generations of her family—all the way from Momma herself, down to a little baby, snuggling in a great-grand-daughter’s arms.)
@ When she was ill He sent His priests to anoint her, as St. James tells us, with oil, so that “if we be in sins, they shall be forgiven.”[iv]
@ God blessed her with the Apostolic Blessing, allowing Saint Peter to “loose on earth and in heaven,” some or even all of the punishment due to her sins.[v]
@ He has sent all of you good people here to pray for her, and to console one another with your kind words and your warm company.
So, in spite of the terrible discontinuity of death, we have every reason to see eternal continuity. When we celebrate her Requiem Mass we will hear the very encouraging words, that:
That “blessed resurrection” is what Saint Paul was writing about in the epistle that we just read. “Death has lost its sting” precisely because, on the last day, “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible.”[vii] On that last day, God will raise up the dead in glorified bodies—whole once again, healthy and entire, not subject to the ravages of disease or the passage of time. It will make no difference that our bodies were buried in a pine box or scattered to the four winds—for God will make all things new.
For those who have lived the spiritual life here on earth—those who have associated themselves with God through prayer and good works, by the keeping of His Commandments and the reception of His Sacraments—the resurrection on the last day will represent conquest over death in all of its aspects.
But parenthetically, I must add that while the good have every reason to look forward to that day of judgment, the bad have every reason for dread. That glorified body, intended for happiness with God in heaven, will only make the just punishment of eternity all the less bearable.
Finally, let us reflect briefly on those words we heard from the Old Testament: “It is therefore a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.”[viii] While sins and the punishment due to sin may be forgiven during this life, our Lord speaks of sins forgiven “in the world to come.”[ix]
We pray for the dead that God will swiftly cleanse them of those small sins and imperfections that might keep them temporarily from enjoying the glory of heaven. That, by His mercy, He might quickly forgive the punishment that is due to their sins in Justice. May God swiftly take His handmaid, Orosia Cortes, to the mansion He has prepared for her in His heavenly kingdom.
But, we also pray for the dead, that we might receive something for ourselves; that by reflecting on the realities of life and death, of heaven and hell, we might be more motivated to live God’s spiritual life, to keep His Commandments, and to receive His Sacraments in order to ensure our own eternal salvation. These are things not just to talk about, for they are realities; we might even say the only realities; for certainly one day we will be the one for whom people have gathered to mourn, and nothing else matters if we lose our souls.
Finally, we pray for the dead, so that they will pray for us. The souls in Purgatory need our prayers, for which they are eternally grateful. Remember that they are God's saints, soon to share the glory of heaven with Him; powerful intercessors on our behalf. Let us not forget those who have gone before us, lest they forget to pray for us.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.
[i] Genesis i: 27.
[ii] At the blessing of the water to be added to the chalice before the offertory.
[iii] John xx.
[iv] James v.
[v] Matthew xvi.
[vi] Preface of the Requiem Masses.
[vii] Epistle: 1 Corinthians xv: 51-57.
[viii] 2 Machabees xii.
[ix] Matthew xii.