Condolence to Br. Dan Horan at the Dating God blog on the death of his grandfather and a close Franciscan friend. It has however, given him much to reflect on this Advent and for that I am grateful for being able to read his thoughts today.
Long before others will talk about the “existentials” of human existence — those aspects universally shared by all of humanity — Francis recognized in the good news (Gospel) of Jesus Christ that death is not something to be feared nor something to be glorified, but something that is part of human reality that leads into something beyond. In his famous Canticle of the Creatures, Francis calls death our “Sister,” a fundamental part of the created order. She, death that is, is something to be embraced because it is death that provides the condition for the possibility of eternal life with God.
Likewise, it is Jesus Christ who, as I like to say, “changed the game forever” when it comes to death. It is not the final word, it does not have the conclusive say, but is instead one part of our lifelong journey in relationship with God, others and all creation.
The Advent hope that Merton talks about urges us to confront head-on the challenges, darknesses, desperation and ignorance of our world, but to do so with the realization that they do not win out. Even death becomes subordinated to life in God. One of the things we are encouraged to consider is the way in which we as Christians hope to share in the victory over death and for life that Christ has won for us. That like Christ, we have been crucified in baptism and will share in Christ’s Resurrection.
Read some more. Good stuff.
Recently I had the opportunity to provide the medical students with a lunchtime lecture given by the acclaimed Dr. Pat Fosarelli< MD, DMin from the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. She reported that a teacher of hers in medical school would ask every time someone died "What role did you play in that death?" Well, sometimes there was something to be said there but most of the time the answer was "None". People, after all, die every day. It is part of life and I often think that death tests our faith to the point where we really have to admit that we struggle with believing that there is more to life than what we see and experience. Can we believe that God can redeem even death and that life has the final word despite our earthly death? I think that's what God calls us to struggle with. God is our redeemer and God always waits for us, just as we wait for God. A second friend noted that she was flustered today because she was the last voice that someone heard and the last kiss they ever received (she kissed their forehead on a hospital call). She fluctuated between being very moved by this and being disturbed by it. As would we all. But perhaps that's the call of faith beckoning us to believe beyond the doubt that tempts us to not believe that God can make all things new again. Can we believe that? Can we hold onto what our faith tells us is a sure and certain hope that God will redeem us into newness of life? I hope we can. I pray that we can. Let us pray that Sister Death will come and comfort us as she leads us to God. And in that experience, may we be changed forever and redeemed by love.