Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Solemn Mass for the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Soul’s Day) at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
2 November 2017
Today, we remember those who have passed from this life with faith, hope and trust in the promise of eternal life. Yesterday we remembered all the name saints, but today, reflect upon those who we know, those who have been part of our lives. Life is a gift from God and nothing that God gives or does is ever wasted. Whether our lives did not make it out of the womb or we live to be 100, we are important in God’s eyes. It’s not quantity and is not even quality; it’s about being – being a child of God.
Our lives are a reflection of God and his love. The faithful departed, especially our deceased loved ones whom we remember today somehow reflected that love. They are never gone; they still live in us. Whether one month, six months, a year, 10 or even 50 years… they live on in our minds and hearts. They have touched us, formed us and changed us. “The life and death of each of us has its influence upon others”. Those words of St Paul are so true for me personally.
I lost my father 3 years ago and his death has had a deep impact on me in the way I live and relate. One of the lessons I learn is to never take your loved ones for granted and to nurture your relationships with them. I learn to be a lot more attentive and caring: a phone call, a gesture of affection, an act of solicitude, a surprise gift etc. These acts of attentiveness show we care, we value and cherish our loved ones.
Some of you are here carrying the memory of a deceased spouse, parent, child, or best friend deep in your hearts. Whatever the situation, you know the pain of loss. You are keenly aware of the grief we experience at the death of a loved one. You know how hard it is to say goodbye, to re-engage with life when there is a gnawing emptiness within, a gaping wound which awaits healing. Sadness, sorrow, grief may fill us today; but we know that the bonds of humanity are not broken by death.
Today’s scriptures reconnect us with this fundamental experience. In the Book of Lamentations, we see this journey from death to new life situated in the movement from suffering to healing. The stark reality of the pain is acknowledged: “My soul is deprived of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.” Then at a certain point, we begin to trust that God is indeed “kind and merciful.” We can dare to hope anew in “the steadfast love of the Lord which is from everlasting to everlasting.” But we have to be patient and wait. It happens in God’s time, not necessarily our own.
All created things change with time; all that lives sooner or later must die. Death is the ultimate change, the final transition. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us how this works: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In this Jesus taught us that we must be prepared for the final “letting go”, the realisation we can take nothing with us.
We enter this world vulnerable and dependent; we return to our Creator in the same way. So the Lord urges us to stay the course even in the darkness, keeping the flame of hope alive in our hearts. Hope that even in the face of the “sting” of death, we may confess in St. Paul’s immortal phrase: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
What does our Catholic faith teach us? That death is not the final answer. It is not the end, but a time of transition: a movement from time into eternity, from finite existence to infinite love and mercy. As Christians, we trust, we believe that Jesus is faithful to his promises. That his Paschal Mystery traces the pattern of our own lives as well. That no one of us is immortal or invulnerable. The threshold over which our loved ones have passed is one we must all go through, sooner or later.
Our faith assures us that love is eternal, that the bonds of love can never be severed. We continue to be united to our loved ones who have died. This is the insight behind what we confess each week as our belief in the “communion of saints”. Without denying the reality of physical death, we affirm our eternal connection with our loved ones.