Friday, April 29, 2016

Memorial Mass for the Dead at St. Patrick Manor

I celebrated the memorial Mass for those residents who died at St. Patrick Manor during the month of March.  The Gospel was the beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew.  

One of the great consolations of the Catholic Church is her formalized structure of prayer surrounding death: Masses for the dead,  prayerful care for the dying, and prayer for those who survive.  The prayers in the Mass for the Dead are meant, in part, to comfort us.  Some of the most consoling words of the Mass for the Dead, are found in the preface leading to the consecration, prayers you will hear shortly: "For your faithful Lord, life is changed not ended."

"For your faithful Lord, life is changed not ended." 

The Easter-season Gospel readings have described that change. They reiterate the promise of eternal life, the promise that was fulfilled through Jesus'
incarnation, birth, passion, death, resurrection and ascension.

"For your faithful Lord, life is changed not ended." 

This is true for the one who has died.  It is also true for those who survive.  Life is changed for those who survive.  It is a dramatic change.  Mourning takes time.  It is time measured in months and years not days or weeks.  Grieving demands physical, mental and spiritual energy. Oftentimes it demands more energy than we have at a particular moment.

"Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted."

They will be comforted.  We hear these words and scream:  How?  When?  By whom?  We also scream the angry question.  Why?

The biggest lie fed to those of us who mourn, a lie perpetrated by journalists, social workers, clueless psychologists, inane TV talk-show hosts, the lady at the post-office, the guy down the street, and just about everyone else, is the word "Closure."

Closure.  Does.  Not.  Exist. 

It is a false concept meant to make those who invoke it feel better. "Oh wow, I've like said something like really significant . . . like."  The illusion of this so-called closure does nothing to comfort us who mourn.  Mourning eases with time.  The sharp edges of grief become more rounded.  We no longer mourn with the intensity that marked the first few days following the death.  With time we adapt to the changes that death has forced on our lives. 

Things never return to the way they were before.  But, with time we arrive at a new baseline. We learn a new definition of normal.  We forge a new way of being.  However, we don't forget.  There is no quote closure unquote.  Forgetting.  Ending.  These are what the word closure suggests, indeed closure seems to demand erasing the memory of the one whom we loved.  Closure only exists in the minds of those who have no idea what they are talking about.  Closure is only possible for those who have never endured the death of someone they loved.  Eventually, however, they learn. 

While I was preparing the funeral homily for Jesuit Father Ned Cassem, former Chief of Psychiatry at the Mass General, his former administrative assistant gave me a copy of some of his writing. He titled one of the essays "Creed."  It reads in part, "Death is not depressing.  It's inspiring.  It makes one sad, but being sad is different from being depressed.  If there is a lot of sadness it is a measure of how much the person was loved." 

"Blessed are they who mourn, they will be comforted."

Neither mourning nor grieving is synonymous with depression.  Mourning cannot be treated with a few anti-depressants.  Grief doesn't resolve with a few anti-anxiety pills. Both require a great deal of what physicians a generation ago referred to as tincture of time.

The comfort promised those who mourn comes from those who listen as we, the bereaved, the grief stricken, the sorrowing, as we . . . are given the opportunity to talk. We need listeners as we talk about our loss.  We need listeners as we reminisce, weep, and yes, laugh.  Those who mourn need time and companionship  . . . not Prozac. 

The comfort promised those who mourn comes from prayer, contemplation on the promise of eternal life, and from frequent reception of the sacraments.  Those who mourn need the quiet time of prayer . . . not Valium.

The comfort promised those who mourn comes from sitting alone with the memories of a husband, wife, mother, father, sibling, grandparent, friend.  Even the memories of the last days or weeks of life may be consoling.

As Father Cassem wrote in Creed: "If you confront death with somebody you love who is dying, out of that will come learning, learning that transforms your life.  It leaves you stronger, braver, and calmer."

Life is changed not ended.  Not only for the one who died but also for us who loved, and continue to love albeit in a different way.  With time we do become stronger, braver, and calmer.  Perhaps we also become less anxious at the prospect of our own deaths. 

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Requiescant in pace.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.


Cemeteries of religious orders are uniform and quite remarkable.  There is a palpable sense of peace. Two of the cemeteries are Jesuit, one is Trappist and one is Benedictine.   Cemeteries seem to photograph a lot better in black and white than color.  Less distraction.  Only the last one here is in color.

The Jesuit Cemetery at the former novitiate and now retreat house in Chang-hua.  Ignatius and I generally get to the retreat house at least once when I am in the country.  Generally we stop there on the way to Sun Moon Lake, one of the most beautiful places on earth.    I had been raining that morning.   The dark squares on the tombstones to the left have plaques.  The white tombs are waiting to be filled.  

The cemetery at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA.  I made a few retreats there when I lived in D.C.  Would like to go back but it is a much longer drive, one that I don't particularly want to make. 
The archabbey has been in place for about 200 years.  Huge cemetery. 

The cemetery at St. Joseph Abbey.  A Trappist house in Spencer, MA it was the location of my final vow retreat.  The cemetery is in the center of the cloister garth.  The men see it on a daily basis.  It is a silent reminder of our mortality. 

The cemetery at Campion center in the winter.  

This freshly dug grave received the coffin of Fr. Ignatius Ikunza, SJ, a close friend who died at a tragically young age.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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