April 11, 2021
I want to begin sharing with you about my remarks regarding the Gallup Poll I referred to last Sunday because Sunday’s paper printed another follow-up, titled: “The Church may be shrinking, but belief in God is not.”
The Gallup Poll reported that as many as 87% of Americans still profess a belief in God. The author of the article suggested that the decline of church attendance is directly related to conservative Christians who let conservative politics shape their faith instead of the gospel faith itself — an interesting conclusion. There are also other reasons — sex scandals in the Catholic Church and distrust of institutions in general.
While we can take some hope and solace in the fact that 87% of Americans believe in God, we need to ask who and what kind of a God? Followers of Jesus who are Roman Catholic do not believe in a generic God or Supreme Being, but in a very specific God. We bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus (our first reading today). In Peter’s testimony last Sunday, we bear witness to how Jesus was anointed by God, doing good and freeing all those oppressed by life and the devil. He was put to death, raised from the dead, seen by eyewitnesses, judge of the living and the dead, and who shares forgiveness of sins to all who believe and follow his new way. We believe in a very particular God, with a particular name, and a very particular spirituality.
Last week in his homily, Fr. Robert talked about the Joy of the Resurrection as more than fantastic enthusiasm, or an exaggerated giddiness, or an off-the-charts “hoorah for Jesus.”
At the heart of Easter Joy, I believe is a deep calm, a soul-enlightening peacefulness, that knows that dying and leaving go of everything will bring to us an experience, a freedom, and a “living on”, whose experience is so different from what we know here, that we cannot put it into words.
So today, I want to reflect with you about grief, about letting go, about moving into something about which we have no experience of how to get past it. Instead of moving on because Monday follows Sunday and all our responsibilities remain, it is emotionally impossible to move from one day dying, death, and burial, to joy, to a new future, as if all that was erased, and we are on to the next thing.
So, I was reading this article in this week’s “Our Sunday Visitor,” by a Susan Erschen and I want to share some of her very thoughtful insights.
On Good Friday last week, I listed some of the people with whom I was identifying carrying their crosses. And this last Tuesday, Debi buried her 59 year-old husband, who dropped dead in front of her, having experienced a stroke and heart attack, and then Thursday morning, her mother who was dying through all of that died as well.
So, today, it is important that we must say “yes” to fear, “yes” to anger, and “yes” to confusion… “yes” to grief. We cannot get away either from 550,000 deaths due to coronavirus– and everyone who wants the rest of this year to be different when we need to mourn, to mourn the upheaval that coronavirus has caused and not try to run away from it in some simplistic way.
So, we acknowledge Thomas today. He wished that he could have been present the week before. He just wants to experience what his friends had experienced the week before. He is just as filled with anger and fear and confusion like they were. None of them were ready to move on; their world and their future had just fallen apart. They were in grief.
So let us look at Thomas and Jesus’ invitation as ours as well: “Put your finger here, and see my hand and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
“I am grieving you, and you are grieving me,” Jesus says.
There was a lot of anger and despair over Jesus’ death, and spouses and parents experience the same sorrow and loss. We should not be ashamed of tears and “losing it.” Remember, too, there is grief that comes when relationships are broken, finances fail, personal betrayals take place. There are many ways our lives can fall apart.
When we stop to think about it, optimism, resilience, a “life is worth living” attitude is a gift from heaven. Very often, we do not understand that many experiences of life are part of God’s plan for us, either drawing us closer to Him and others or inviting us to follow a different path.
During this week, at daily mass, we read the story that followed last Sunday’s gospel where Jesus calls Mary of Magdala by name, after which she is clinging to Jesus. He had to tell her to let go of him. Part of grieving is to let go and gradually find a new way to be whole. It takes time. I know of people who have never removed their husband’s clothes from his closet — 20 years’ gap. We move on by letting our beloved who have died to move on. What would that have meant for Mary of Magdala? How would that apply to other circumstances as well?
I am sure that Debi and her son want to have a new life. And that is what our gospel writer wants for us also: To believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief, we may have LIFE in his name. But it takes time to talk it through, to not be able to function, to ask for help. Jesus is always there to fill the hole that has been opened up and yet, we feel left behind, or discarded, or forgotten, or dismissed, left out, alone.
How do people go on with their lives when someone who was such a wonderful part of it is gone? Remember that God sends angels to open the tomb. The tomb is filled with light. We do not lose our way although we feel lost, sometimes for a long time. Sometimes, we feel that we have lost a part of ourselves, but we have angels in our children and friends to pick up the pieces. There are people all around us who can help, and all we have to do is to welcome their help.
If we read the resurrection stories and find ourselves within them, we see a whole range of emotions, of helplessness, and sorrow, but we also see moments of light and joy.
We deal with grief and absence as the disciples did. Jesus told his small group of companions, several times, to go to Galilee, to return to the place where he first called them altogether. There, they would see him and there he would teach them once again about God’s plan for them, God’s hope for them. He would ask them to join him in what he had started and ask them to continue it.
As he breathed on those first companions with the Holy Spirit, he breathes on us today — over our disappointments and sorrows and catastrophes — giving us energy and insight to push his dreams forward and ours as well– to forgive people, pulling them out of selfish hearts and pouring reinvigoration into our lives, with a new sense of purpose and hope.
Because Easter is a season of 50 days, do you think that all Jesus’ followers overcame their grief and disappointment in 50 days? Do you think they picked up the pieces and moved on just like that? I don’t think so. Some probably gave up on Jesus altogether and drowned their sorrows in who knows what?
So, we have to walk through grief and disappointment. For how long? For as long as it takes!
In this Resurrection season, Jesus offers two [phrases]: “Do not be afraid” and “I am with you.” God never intended that we go through grief alone. God intended to be our friend, to walk alongside us, and to bring us to the other side: to hope and to renew an enthusiasm for the future. Through grief, to joy, to the future! We have to go through the grief.
Pope Francis writes: “Faith is not a light that scatters darkness, but rather a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for our journey.
God does not provide arguments against our grief which explain everything. His response is an accompanying presence which touches every story and opens a ray of light.”
As Debi’s family stood around the grave where we placed the ashes of her beloved “Howie,” tears streaming down her eyes, she said very simply. “I don’t know what to do, I cannot even think. I do not know what to do next.”
Neither did the disciples in today’s story. They got it together however, and here we are 2,000 years later. And Debi will get it together, slowly and definitely, like many of you have as well.
Jesus asked Thomas a question today: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?” Jesus wants us to know that we are more blessed than Thomas and he wants us to know that He is walking with us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” Jesus said. That is you and me.