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All Souls
November 2, 2020

Watch Father Ryan's homily (it begins at 38:30).

     It is good for us to be together and to pray together on this All Souls Day. Each of us has had personal encounters with death this past year – a parent, a spouse, a child, a loved one, a friend, a neighbor. We have been saddened and diminished by our losses and we seek comfort and solace - and an assurance that we are not alone in our grief.

     Our world and our nation have experienced death this past year, too – on a scale that is both chilling and sobering.  A terrible pandemic has become a battleground and a burial ground for well over a million people, over 230,000 here in our own country. That so many lives should be lost in this way is not only a tragedy, it is a scandal.
And death has come in other ways, too: from wars and terrorist acts like the appalling one the other day in the Cathedral church of Notre-Dame in Nice, and death has also come from senseless, racially motivated police shootings in our cities and neighborhoods.

     And then there is the toll taken by natural disasters: by out-of-control wildfires in this country on an apocalyptic scale, and by yesterday’s terrible typhoon in the Philippines, as well as by devastating hurricanes in this country that have swept away too many lives by with what can only be called a “preferential option” for the lives of the poor.

     Where was God in all of this, many ask. And it’s a fair question that admits of no easy answer. In pondering it, I find myself taken by the idea of one thoughtful writer who suggested that perhaps our mistake in asking ‘the God question’ the way we always do is rooted in a flawed idea of what it means to say that God is all-powerful. The writer suggested that in choosing to create, God also chose to limit the divine power in significant ways, ways we fail to understand – much as Jesus, who was God incarnate, completely let go of power when he ‘emptied himself, taking on our human condition, suffering crucifixion and death in solidarity with all those of all times who would suffer mysteriously and unjustly.

     I know this falls far short of solving the nagging problem of evil, but maybe it can give us a tiny window onto it.

     In reflecting on these things, I am also taken by another thought: alongside the problem of evil, there is the mystery of love which is so often evident at the time of death and disaster. Think, for instance, of the great gift of love that doctors, nurses, and medical people have given by putting their lives on the line for people suffering from COVID-19. Think of the immense outpouring of love and human goodness that typically overflows whenever a great natural disaster strikes. Human nature is at is best as people unselfishly reach out, allowing sweet tears of love to dilute bitter tears of grief. And so, while we believers are indeed faced with trying to explain the problem of evil, unbelievers have a whole different thing to explain: the mystery of love….

      Among the three scriptural readings we just heard, the reading from the Book of Lamentations may best reflect our mood this night and the mood of our world. “My soul is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; I tell myself that my future is lost, all that I hoped for from the Lord.” But the reading does not end there, my friends, and neither can our thoughts and struggles, because in the midst of incalculable loss the great lament dares to go on to speak of hope: “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, God’s mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning, so great is God’s faithfulness.”

     On this feast of All Souls, I like to speak about making friends with death. It’s not easy, is it?  And the older I get, the more opportunities I have to do just that as more and more family members and friends of a lifetime are called home by God. Making friends with death is not easy but it’s what we must do, and St. Francis of Assisi leads the way with his talk of “Sister Death.”  And so does St. Paul who “longed to be dissolved and to be with Christ,” and who eagerly looked forward to what “eye hath not seen nor ear heard.” These are powerful affirmations of faith that fly in the face of the way most people look at death. They are expressions of a wisdom that is completely at odds with the wisdom of this age or any age. Ultimately, they are God’s wisdom, not ours - the only wisdom that can make sense of so much in our lives and in our world that are otherwise senseless.

     My friends in Christ, this evening’s celebration of the Eucharist brings us face-to-face with this mysterious, divine wisdom. At the heart of the Eucharist is death: a body broken and blood poured out; but at the heart of the Eucharist is also life, God’s overflowing and abundant life that raised Jesus from the dead and will raise us also. With God, life always gets the last word. It always will!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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