Fr Martin Pender
It is not an easy task to speak about the nature and reality of death, but to speak about life after death is an even more difficult undertaking. Personally, I have always found it more beneficial not to speak about “life” after death, but rather about “love” after death. This approach gives us a healthier Christian foundation upon which we can reflect on the themes of the reality of death and the hope of resurrection as they are presented in the readings today. As we have just celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints and also remembered the Holy Souls, it is very appropriate that we reflect on these important themes of death and resurrection from the perspective of Love as the nature of God himself.
As we get older and our physical bodies become weaker, we reach the stage when we must let grace do the work. As the shadow of death approaches and eventually wraps us in its mantle, we reach the stage of spiritual growth where we no longer rely on our own abilities but on the infinite mercy of God. This is a necessary step in our spiritual lives because it teaches us that life is not just biological, and by becoming more aware of our mortality we can place our hope in the One who is Life itself, the One who is Love.
As a priest for many years, I have had the honour and privilege of being at the bedside of many people as they died, and every time the event has been miraculous to me. At the moment of death, I remain with the “remains” of a person whom I had known, someone whom I had spoken with, someone whom I had shared life with. And now, that “person” has vanished. The body is the same one I knew before. The mouth is the same one that spoke and laughed. But in the blink of my eye, the individual is “gone” (to use the common expression). However, it is only “hope” that can reveal to us where that person has “gone”.
One of the brothers in the first reading today says it this way: “Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hands, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him.” To rely on God’s promise, to have hope in the God of life and love – this is what we can learn from today’s first reading and apply it to our daily living and struggles.
We have only to reflect on the crucifixion to see that Jesus, God himself, chose to die this way, in reliance on the reality of love. Jesus knew his Father so well that he kept hope alive even when everything seemed dark and desolate. God is the God of life, the Gospel says; “to him all are alive”, even the dead.
In the Bible, God has revealed himself as the God of the living. God enters into a personal relationship with every human being, and that relationship cannot be destroyed, even by death. All of this reminds us that our faith in life after death rests on our trust in a permanent covenant relationship with a loving Creator. This places our hope in life after death in the right perspective, not in idle speculations about what happens after death, but in the revelation about the nature of God himself who is love.
Why are those who have “gone” still alive? Because God keeps love. Yes. Real love is like a piece of fertile ground that nurtures great trees. Love is a force much deeper than biological life. When earthly life ceases, love remains. It becomes the home, the embracing arms that enfold us. So the “place” dead people “go”, leaving their bodies behind, is into the heart of love, into the arms of God who is love.
Saint Paul expresses this beautifully when he says, “Neither death nor life … can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39). Therefore, I do not speak about Life after Death, but, rather, Love after Death.