Gregory Heidenblut, O.S.A.
Saint Patrick's Seminary and University
Menlo Park, California
Wis 6: 12-16
Ps 63: 2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
1 Thes 4: 13-18 or 1 Thes 4: 13-14
Mt 25: 1-13
The readings today provide an antonym between the Gospel’s message of rejoicing and the Second Reading’s message about grieving. Both are part of life and can be very close to each other. Today I may attend a solemn profession, tomorrow a funeral.
St. Paul, in his early epistles, shared with the early Christians (viz. 1 & 2 Thess) that Jesus wouldreturn soon and take them all to heaven. The Thessalonians were concerned for their loved-ones and friends who may die before Jesus returned in glory. In the Second Reading (1 Thess 4:13-18), we hear Paul reassuring the Thessalonians. He tells them that as surely as God raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus will raise those who have died, and present them to God in the final victory of his Kingdom.
But meanwhile they are grieving. What should be their attitude toward grief? He didn’t tell theThessalonians that they should not grieve. What he said to them was: “Do not grieve like those who have no hope.” Grief is not an easy thing to handle. We still find people who directly or indirectly discourage it. I seldom share personal stories during a homily. If I do, I rarely use my name, so the story becomes generic but efficacious in bringing the scripture passage to life, and hopefully applicable to those who embrace the homily. This homily will have me break with my homiletic tradition because the homily is meant to be shared with my Augustinian brothers.
I experienced the loss of my three siblings in a short span of two years. In rapid succession they died leaving me unable to grieve for their loss because another sibling was being called. Being the last of my immediate family, and still in the early stages of a very deep grief, I had no one to share the sorrow. My nieces and nephews, however, made sure not to bring up the one subject I desperately wanted and needed to talk about, namely, the death of my sister and two brothers. They said they didn’t want to upset me. So they acted as if nothing had happened, and expected me to do the same. Even though they meant well, they were not helping. They had to do their own grief-work. That grief became all the greater for not being shared.
Grief naturally follows the loss of a loved-one as day follows night. Grief is one of the strongest emotions we will ever experience. Many people have a problem about expressing grief, and may try to suppress it. We believe to suppress grief is dangerous, and can result in serious emotional problems in the future.
To live productively after the death of a loved one, people need to go through a period of mourning. The way to deal with grief is not to run away from it, or pretend it isn’t there, but to face it and work through it with as much honesty and courage as one can. As shared previously, with the rapid succession of losing my siblings, I never found time to embrace a period of grieving. It was only through a psychologist, who happened to be a fellow priest and friend, that I was able to process my losses in a healthy and loving way.
My experience, like many who do this, will emerge enriched. Grief has a great purgative value. God cannot fill the soul until it is emptied of trivial concerns. Faith should not be used as a barrier against grief. Sometimes people say about someone who does not grieve, “What great faith she/he has!” But even Christ grieved. To grieve over the loss of a loved one is a good and necessary thing.
While faith doesn’t do away with the necessity of grieving, it is a wonderful comfort and support at a time of death. St. Paul says, “We believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Christ ... Comfort one another with these thoughts” (1 Thess 4:14). The reality I encountered is faith doesn’t take away our grieving. What it does do is enable us to grieve with hope. There’s no escaping the work of grief, and there can be no short cuts. Through experience I discovered, if grief is suppressed it will surface later. We must not be afraid to cry, to let ourselves go. It’s part of the healing. We may have tears in our eyes but hope in our hearts. If we do the work of grieving, we will wake up one morning, liberated and full of energy for life.
We will close with the wedding feast from today’s Gospel. Jesus, invites us, and will provide a more joyful experience for those who have walked through the shadow of the valley of grief and emerged with the lamp of love still burning brightly.