Last week I celebrated the funeral liturgy and burial of a 97 year old Catholic woman who was a widow and the mother of three children. In preparing for the wake and funeral liturgy, her daughter made a special effort to make it clear that she wanted her mother’s body sprinkled with holy water before the casket was closed. Opportunely, the closing of the casket was to take place immediately before the start of the funeral Mass. It seemed so right that we should evoke the words of the first prayer of the funeral Mass as the casket was being closed and the pall was being spread out over the casket. In baptism he/she died with Christ, may he/she now share with him eternal life.
The alternative second reading of today’s Mass comes out of the Christian conviction that the life we have entered into through baptism will never experience the defeat of death. Rather, by being joined to Christ in baptism, we are also joined to his Resurrection. We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
This conviction fueled the early Christian communities’ willingness to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel. This “Paschal Mystery” of the life-giving death and resurrection of Jesus also inspired many founders, men and women, of religious congregations to create the religious families through which one would die to self and live for Christ.
Outside of religious life in the Church, other Christians have embraced the lesson of the Cross, dying to self, in order to live on as a disciple of Christ and witnessing to the Gospel in their daily living.
For all of us the dying will overtake us, and we shall have no choice but to abandon ourselves into the loving arms of our creator and the multitude of the saints who will come to welcome us home. We may, by tradition, be remembering our deceased loved ones today, but the eternal light that shines for them is the light that also serves as the beacon leading us home to our God.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.