Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for All Souls’ Day, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9; Mark 15:33-39,16:1-6
2 November 2018
Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last
One of the most fundamental features of our Catholic faith is the belief in the communion between the living and the dead. Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of All Saints who lived the Beatitudes of Christ and followed him on the path of faithful discipleship. They participated in God’s redemptive work of restoring all things in Christ and making his Kingdom of truth, goodness and light a reality in the world. Thus, a saint is not a someone motivated merely by an afterlife reward or a self-centred bliss. Sainthood is a summons to active faithful discipleship and mission. The saints inspire us and intercede for us so that we too live the Beatitudes of Christ and bring God’s vision to fulfilment.
Today we express our communion with those who are still in the process of purification before the beatific vision. We remember them in the celebration of All Souls. The bonds of love between the living and the dead are not broken by death. Our love for them and their love for us endure. Sadness, sorrow, grief may fill us the living, but that is a reminder of their presence and love in our lives.
The Word of God today gives us comfort, hope and strength as we move forward in our pilgrimage of faith. In the first reading, Isaiah speaks prophetically of the renewal of Israel through the pain of the exile. He maintains that God will remake a battered nation and a humiliated people. A veil of mourning will be removed and a banquet will be prepared for the poor and the remnant faithful. This is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel and the liberation of the people from the Babylonian oppression. It is also a metaphor for the triumph of God’s plan in which we, like the faithful exiles or the remnants of Israel, are called to embrace and activate. We are comforted and galvanised into action by the hope of the ultimate triumph of God’s love over evil, grace over sin, light over darkness and life over death.
The Gospel speaks of the triumph of God through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Mark, the earliest evangelist does not put any sugar coating over the bitter events of Good Friday. He describes them in real, confronting and shocking terms. Jesus dies on a cross forlorn, abandoned and in total despair. There is no voice of comfort and approval from heaven. There is no sense of accomplishment and closure. There is just a lone cry of utter abandonment: “My God my God, why have you deserted me?”.
Yet even the midst of this incredible sadness and despair, we can detect the signs of God’s unexpected triumph. For example, at the death of Jesus, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom –an action performed from above. This can only mean that the Holy of Holies contained in the tabernacle of old is now revealed in Jesus. In other words, he is now the new temple where the fullness of God dwells. The centurion too who acknowledges the divinity of Jesus is now the new Israelite, no longer defined by race and blood but by faith and discipleship.
The Gospel story continues to show us that death does not have the last word in Jesus, even though he seems to have met with a cruel and tragic end. Mary of Magdala and the other women found the tomb to be empty. They were told that death had no power to contain Jesus and he was alive. They themselves were sent to share the Good News of the Easter story with others.
The Easter story is about Christ overcoming death, Christ vindicated and restored to dignity and glory. It continues to unfold in our lives and our world. Yes, the Easter story continues when we commit ourselves to the struggle for truth, justice and the fulness of life, confident that God will make good his plan of salvation. It is he who will change our darkness to light, our sorrow to joy, our suffering to glory and our death into life. May we have the courage and faith to live the Paschal mystery, in the words of St Paul: “If we die with Christ, we shall rise with him; if we suffer with him, we will share in his glory”.
Brothers and sisters,
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. We remember them to God is the source of our life and love, the beginning and end of our destiny.
Let us pray that we may live our resurrection faith through the changing circumstances around us. May we pattern our lives on Jesus who triumphed over sin and death by virtue of his fidelity to God. May we be guided by his example as we progress on our pilgrim way towards our heavenly home.