Mass at Holy Cross Mausoleum 2021
[Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26; Psalm 147; Matthew 9:35 – 10:1, 5a, 6-8]
Among the deepest pains we can experience is that which arises from the death of a loved one. We all go through it, and in those moments look for sources of consolation that help us to bear the weight of grief.
In my own experience of the death of a family member, a great source of consolation for me has been the compassion shown by other people. Sympathy cards, phone calls from people I haven’t heard from in years, visits, and meals delivered to the home are among the ways I and my family have experienced other people reach out to us in our time of grieving. It is enormously consoling. I cannot do anything about the fact that a loved one has died, and neither can they, yet the signs of compassion help greatly to live through the grieving process.
In the texts from Sacred Scripture today, we hear about the compassion of our God. These biblical texts assure us that God hears our every cry, and feels deeply, at a depth we cannot imagine, a real compassion for us in every moment of difficulty, including, of course, the pain of grief. Yet, unlike our friends, unlike ourselves, who cannot do anything about the fact of death, God can. Nothing lies beyond His power to transform. And not only can God do something, but also he has. God has acted in such a way that death loses its power and our grief is transformed into hope.
What he has done, of course, is sent His Son, Jesus. This gift is what we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas. Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus has taken upon himself our human nature, and in that nature died and rose again. In so doing, Jesus has robbed death of any finality and has made it a transition to eternal life.
When we are grieving, we often enough dread the approach of Christmas, especially if we are celebrating it for the first time after the death of one we love. Yet, when we consider what Christmas is, rather than dread the celebration we realize the need to embrace it and enter fully into it. At Christmas, we mark the birth of the One who has ended the power of death. We celebrate the nativity of the One who has made it possible for our deceased loved ones to enter into life forever.
By this I do not mean that we can reason away our pain. Of course not. Our pain is real and remains with us for some time. What I do mean is that Christmas is an invitation to us who receive so many expressions of compassion from others to accept also the great sign of God’s compassion for us, namely the gift of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an invitation to allow God to carry us, especially at those moments when we find it difficult to bear up under the grief, that is often compounded by all the other pressures we face. We heard in the Gospel that Jesus looked out upon the crowds and was filled with compassion because they were harassed and helpless. That probably describes us very well, too, as we experience grief at the same time as COVID and all of its attendant difficulties and pressures weigh heavily upon us. As Jesus looked upon the crowd of old with great compassion, so, too, does he upon us. By allowing him to love and carry us, we find all the help we need.
We offer this mass for our departed loved ones interred here or on the grounds of Holy Cross cemetery. Let’s do so in the full awareness that we lift them up to God, who is endless compassion, and who wills to welcome them by his mercy to the joy of eternal life. Let’s keep in mind, too, that he looks within the heart of each of us and understands perfectly the pain that lies within. May God’s great compassion touch us, too, and give remedy to our hearts with the healing that only God can give.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Holy Cross Mausoleum
December 4th, 202i