Goodbye, Welcome
GUIDING LIGHT - Fr. Benjamin SIM, SJ (The Freeman) - November 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Today’s liturgy invites us to reflect on death and the life after death.  This seems to be all the more relevant with all the daily news about bombings, and shootings, typhoons, floods, and earthquakes – just to name a few.

For an atheist, there is no afterlife.  Death is pure tragedy.  It is the end of everything.  No matter how wealthy or healthy, how happy or guilty you are, how powerful, or popular, how many friends you have, when death comes – disaster!

Everything is wiped away.  We fall into nothingness.  So, “carpe diem” – enjoy as much pleasure as you can each day, while you are still alive and kicking!

Most religions however, believe in an afterlife, but they differ in their idea of the next life.  Some religions believe in reincarnation, that we keep on coming back in some other persons or animals.  It’s just a recycling process until you are made good enough or have suffered enough.

Some believe in a place for the dead.  They call it Hades, or Sheol or “somewhere down there.”

And because death is so familiar and yet so mysterious, and we have not experienced what the next life is like, we tend to project our experiences of happiness in this life to the life of the dear departed.

Thus the American Indians believe that the dead are in the “Happy Hunting Ground,” because they love to hunt.  Some Orientals offer delicious food, burn gold and silver painted paper for the pocket money of the  departed; they burn paper houses, and automobiles (with drivers), or a helicopter, for the enjoyment of the dead.

In speaking of resurrection and of life after death, the Sadducee had used as a starting point their own earthly experience.  This was a mistake.  In the next life everything is different,  and no comparison is possible.

For the Christian, death is a passage, a transition to a more perfect life, a life with God, the Source of all happiness.

Fr. Mark Link tells a story of the twins.  One day, a mother conceived twins.  One child was a girl, the other a boy.  Months passed and they developed.  As they grew they sang for joy, “Isn’t it great to be alive!”

Together the twins explored their mother’s womb.  When they found their mother’s life cord, they shouted for joy, “How great is our mother’s love, that she shares her life with us!”

Soon the twins began to change drastically.  “What does this mean?” asked the boy.  “It means that our life in the womb is coming to an end,” said the girl.

“But I don’t want to leave the womb,” said the boy, “I want to stay here forever.”

“We have no choice,” said the girl.  “But maybe there is life after birth.”

“How can there be?” asked the boy.  “We will shed our mother’s cord, and how is life possible without it?  Besides, there’s evidence in the womb that others were here before us, and none of them ever came back to tell us that there is life after birth.  No, this is the end.”

And so the boy fell into despair saying, “If life in the womb ends in death, what’s its purpose?  What’s its meaning? Maybe we don’t even have a mother.  Maybe we made her up just to feel good.”

“But we must have a mother,” said the girl. “How else did we get here?  How else do we stay alive?”

And so the last days in the womb were filled with deep questioning and fear.  Finally, the moment of birth arrived.  When the twins opened their eyes, they cried for joy.  What they saw exceeded their wildest dreams.

Just as the twins wondered about life after birth and what it was like, so we sometimes wonder about life after death and what it is like.  And just as life after birth exceeded the dreams of the twins, so life after death will exceed our dreams.

In the words of St. Paul, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much dawned on the human heart what God has prepared for those who love (Him).” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Perhaps a way to illustrate the meaning of this passage from St. Paul is to imagine yourself describing a modern home with its air-conditioned room, and TV, home theater, computer, ipad, etc. to a cave man.  No matter how hard you try, the cave man will not understand what you are talking about.  Try to describe your travel by airplanes, and air-con bus to him.  It will not make sense to him.  It is beyond his experience in life.

If you try to explain a modern kitchen with its refrigerator, mixer and blender, electric stove, and microwave oven, to a cave woman, she would not make sense of what you’re talking about.

Likewise, for someone to describe what God has prepared for those who love Him, we would not comprehend what he’s talking about.

We just know that God will give us what would be the best for us, because He is all-wise.

And He loves us dearly.

This gives us a whole new perspective of looking at death.  The late Fr. William Klement, S.J., in his own funeral homily wrote: “We might describe death in this way.  You are on the seashore, and a ship is leaving.  It’s carrying a dear friend.  He’s leaving your shore and going to another.

And as you watch the ship pull out, your heart is full of sadness, because your friend is now leaving you.  And it is goodbye – God be with you!

“As it disappears over the horizon, it is a sad goodbye.  But at the same time to those on the other shore, as it appears on the horizon, the ship is just the same.  It holds the same passengers as the time it left you at the shore.  But as it comes over the horizon and becomes closer, more visible, there’s great anticipation for those waiting on the shore.  They’re waiting say their welcome, welcome.

The Father is waiting there, the Father is waiting for His prodigal son to come home, and his loving brother, Jesus, who loved him so much that he gave up his life for him.  And the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love, and there his Mother, Mary, Jesus’ mother and mine.

And as the ship arrives, there is a great shout.  ‘Welcome home!’  And Jesus says, ‘Come, beloved of my Father, enter into the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world!’ ”

Relatives and friends, too, who have gone before, are waiting there with their welcome, and all the Saints, whom we have known in history and have loved and prayed to.  They too, join in the “Hail,” in the “Welcome!”

Death a sorrowful thing?  A fearful thing?  Could anything be more joyful than on the shores of heaven, when one has crossed over the sea to the other end?

Let’s conclude by quoting again the words of St. Paul concerning heaven.  They are a beautiful summery of our faith and our hope concerning life after death.

St. Paul wrote:

“What eye has not seen, and

Ear has not heard,

And what has not entered the human heart,

What God has prepared for those who love Him.”

This God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

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