Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - Death!
Probably not the most welcome topic to hear about; but, sooner or later, one on which we all have to think. Popular saying has it that two things in life are inevitable - Death and Taxes. While most people can adjust to dying in the normal course of events, generally after a long and fruitful life, death in the young, or violent death appear to be pointless, causing many to question belief in a God of Goodness and Love. Today's readings give us an insight into this question.

Wisdom 1:13-15;2:23-24: Here the author affirms that God did not create human nature to die; that death, physical or spiritual results from sin; but there is implanted in human nature the seeds of immortality.

2 Cor. 8:7,9,13-15: These seeds of immortality, according to St. Paul, are cultivated and nurtured by good deeds. Such works of mercy and charity are geared to one's own ability to give and the needs of others to receive.

Mark - 5:21-43: Here we see two facets of Christ's character - firstly His compassion. Human suffering always touched Him; and, secondly, His ready response to Faith. In responding to the father's plea and restoring the daughter to life, Christ makes a statement that, eventually, all would be raised to full life in the Father. His display of power over death in this instance is but a forerunner to the ultimate victory shown in His Resurrection.

Point 1: One of the most heart-rending places in the world is a children's hospital, particularly those wards where terminally sick children are being cared for. An automatic reaction is "It isn't fair"! How can one believe in a God of Goodness and Love when such suffering is allowed. The same question arises when one considers the broader areas of human behaviour resulting in wholesale death and destruction - the "Holocaust"; the weapons of saturation bombing targeting civilian and military targets indiscriminately; the brutality of the concentration camps and the genocidal conflicts constantly being waged in different areas of the world. Why doesn't God stop it all? The simple answer is given in today's first reading -"Death was not God's doing.... it was the devil's envy that brought death into the world". Because we are free to choose, we either listen to God or to the Devil.

The fact is that throughout history, most people have died young. It is only in comparatively recent times with the advance of science, that old age has become an expectation for the majority. But whether it is of the young or the old, tragic or in the normal course of events, death can only be explained by considering God's overall plan of salvation. "I have come that you may have life, and that more abundantly". Christ was not speaking of material abundance or of longevity. This promise of "life in abundance" related to a life lived in partnership with Him culminating in final and eternal union with the Father, the Source of Life. This transition is only achieved through death. Death is not the end; it is a transformation. As an anonymous Indian mystic wrote -"Death is the extinguishing of the candle because the dawn has come".

Point 2: Throughout recorded history, people have constantly asked the question - "how does one make any sense of life, if it is all blotted out in death?" Religious thinking, generally, formed vague answers in terms of an afterlife. It was Christ, however, who crystallised this thinking by resurrecting from the dead. No other religious leader has offered to his followers such dramatic confirmation of the purpose of life. The raising of Jairus' daughter proclaims this theme that with Christ -"Life conquers death".

Conclusion: Such thinking, of course does not mean that Christians are exempt from the natural trauma associated with death, particularly of those who, by human standards, have not had a chance to live. We are not Pollyannas shutting our eyes to the reality of pain and suffering involved in the separation caused by death. But we do follow the advice of St. Paul [1 Th 4:13] "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope". This is the core message of Christian belief - that what happened to the little girl when Jesus took her by the hand, will eventually happen to us. We, too, can rise with Christ. The question is - "do our reactions to death, particularly sudden or tragic death, reveal to others our belief that Jesus has won victory over death, a victory which all can share?

Scriptural reference: [Acts 24:15] I have a hope in God - a hope that they themselves also accept-- that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience toward God and all people.