Words on the Word

All Souls

Wisdom 3:1-9: He has tested them like gold in the furnace.
Romans 5:5-11: The love of God has been poured into our hearts.
Mark 15:33-16:6: In truth this man was the Son of God.

I used to have a friend who taught in a primary school. One day she attended a teacher-training day on death. It is so important, she was told, to reassure children about death. What is it, after all, but the switching off of machinery? What is fearsome in that? Very likely, we shall not even know we are dying when the time comes, so why worry? To help children understand what death is, my friend was advised to use the following demonstration. She was to take a lighted candle and say: ‘This flame stands for grannie.’ She was then to snuff out the candle and say: ‘And this is what happens when grannie dies. Gone! Vanished! And so quickly! Little children, do not be afraid!’

My friend was a woman of faith. She had spent half a century teaching children. She returned home traumatised. So, I think, would I. As for the children subjected to this teaching, God help them!

Is it not interesting that such anti-catechesis reverses a perennial Christian practice? We spontaneously light candles for our dead, certain that they have not vanished, that their moment of death was not tantamount to unplugging a computer; that it was, rather, the culmination of their existence, an act by which they passed from life to fullness of life.

Nothing is more characteristic of Christianity than our firm conviction that death has been destroyed. We believe that the promise made by Isaiah has been fulfilled. By Christ’s rising God has saved us. The mourning veil has been lifted. Never again will it weigh us down with its dank, heavy darkness — unless we tug at it and pull it over our faces.

We can refuse to see, but the fact remains: death has been destroyed forever. Love really is stronger.

This certainty fills us with hope. It fills us, too, with earnestness. For we have work to do. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are not light things. They do not dissolve into thin air. They leave traces. We carry them into eternity, where we shall give an account of our living in time.

Even there, however, even carrying the burden of our betrayals, love keeps us safe, if we let it. Remember Paul’s assurance in his Letter to the Romans: ‘Having died to make us righteous, is it likely that [Christ] would now fail to save us from wrath?’ Hardly.

What we celebrate today is the triumph of hope. Even the dead who, at their passing, were unprepared to meet their Maker are covered by the mantle of his mercy. Their flame lives on. By our prayers, we breathe on it, helping it drink up the oxygen of Christ’s love, to rise pure and strong. On no other day of the Church’s year do we see the bridge that links this world to the next more clearly. We see that our loved ones are not lost to us, nor we to them. We pray, too, for the unloved and unremembered, that the whole Church may be bound together in charity, embraced by Christ’s sacrifice. Its victory holds all.

We have a vital testimony to give to this hopeless world of ours!

Photograph: Br Martin Horwath.