Homily for All Souls Day
Isaiah 25.6-9 Psalm 23 1 Corinthians 15.51-57 Luke 23.44-46, 50, 52-53; 24.1-6a
This past Sunday evening, I had the opportunity to concelebrate at a Memorial Mass at St. Paul’s Hermitage in Beech Grove, on the southeast side of Indianapolis. St. Paul’s is a retirement and health care facility operated by the Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery. My grandmother is currently a resident there, and other family members have lived there over the years. Following the Mass, everyone was invited to process to the cemetery on the grounds where the Benedictine Sisters from that monastery are buried. As we walked toward the cemetery, my mind was taken back to the last time I processed along the same path, to the day more than eight years ago when we accompanied the casket of my great-aunt, Sister Mary Edwin Wuertz, on the way to her burial. On that summer day in 2001, the procession to the cemetery was accompanied by a tradition of the Benedictine sisters. Along the way, one of the sisters chanted the name of each member of their community who had died and was buried in the cemetery we were walking toward. After each name was chanted, everyone sang the response: “Pray for us.” It was a community litany of the saints, invoking the prayers of the holy Benedictine women who had gone before us into eternal life. As the procession reached the cemetery itself, the name of the sister who had just died was chanted, and we all responded the same way: “Pray for us.” That same ritual accompanies every funeral procession at Our Lady of Grace Monastery.
Today, we do something very similar here in our own parish church. Over the past year, since last year’s All Souls Day, fifteen members of our parish have died and been buried from this community. In a few minutes, we will hear their names read out, and we will respond to each name, “We lift you up.” The names and the words may be different than those used during a procession to the Benedictine sisters’ cemetery. But the idea is the same. And for us gathered here in this church, it’s not just about those whose names are read in our parish litany. Many other family members and friends, both near and far, have died over the past year and in years gone by, and they are remembered as well. On All Souls Day, we remember more than anything else that we are all part of one communion of saints – that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have a connection – a communion – with those who have gone before us in death and await us in eternal life. As we pray in the funeral liturgy, in the moment of death, “life is changed, not ended” (Preface of Christian Burial I). Today is the only day during the church year when we have the option of hearing the account of both the death and resurrection of Christ in a single gospel reading. But, today especially, those two events must go together. Christ’s death has no meaning without his resurrection – his rising to new life destroyed the sting of death and opened for us the gates of heaven. And so it is for us – we cannot contemplate our own death or the death of a loved one without also trusting in the promise of resurrection. Life does not end at the moment of death, it is changed into a new and eternal life, a life that we hope to share one day with those who have gone before us. Today, we pray for these men and women who have passed from this life to the next, and we also ask them to pray for us; that we may be made worthy to share the promise of eternal life.