He is not the God of the dead, but of the living

We celebrated All Souls Day last Wednesday, and during the month of November we are praying for all the souls in Purgatory. Why did God allow them to die? Why does He allow anything bad? These are tough questions, and the Church does not claim to have all the answers. But, when it comes to death, the readings in November provide some insights.

My first funeral as a priest was for a baby (“Ikesi”) who was two weeks out of the womb. How does one talk to that family? They are a devout, Catholic family, but they asked, “why?…why is God allowing this?” I listened to them and cried with them. I later responded to them by saying that when I ask why, I look at a crucifix. Why did God allow His own son to die? If we look at why we call the day He died “Good Friday”, we can again arrive at an answer. We call it “Good” because of the good that came out of it: our salvation and redemption, of course. But, and this is what we hear in the readings in November, resurrection is what comes out of Christ’s death. In other words, we call it Good Friday because of Easter Sunday.

In general, the Church teaches that God allows bad things to happen in order to bring good out of them. In fact, it’s a greater good. Think about Christ’s suffering and death: as bad as it all was, the good that God brought out of it was even greater. That greater good was resurrection. The second reading (Romans 6:3-9) from the Mass for All Souls says, “we know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him”. In His resurrection, Christ conquered death! He has power over all things, including death. To get a fuller sense of the magnitude of this, imagine that you’re at a funeral. The casket is in the front of the Church, and the person has been dead for 3-4 days. Imagine the person getting out of the casket, and walking around….alive! That is resurrection. That’s what happened with Christ, and I’m sure it spooked people like it would spook us at a funeral. In fact, even more so: no one had ever risen from the dead before Christ. That’s what happened with Him: His body was dead, and then it was alive. Today’s Gospel sums it up perfectly: “He is not God of the dead, but of the living”.

That’s what can happen for us: “if, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him”. And, the Lord says in the Gospel (Jn 6:37-40) on All Souls, “everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day”. If we live and die in Christ, we shall rise with Christ. So, God allows death, as bad as it is, so that something greater can come out of it which is resurrection and eternal life. In short, we have to go through death to get to Heaven.

Last Tuesday was the Solemnity of All Saints. One of the most beautiful teachings of the Church is the Communion of Saints. This refers to the interaction between the saints in Heaven and the saints on Earth. It happens at every Mass, including every funeral Mass. At the Consecration, the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God . Where there is the Son, there is the Father and the Spirit, and all the angels and saints. The Eucharist is where Heaven and Earth unite. This Church becomes a chamber of Heaven. We don’t see the saints, but we believe that they are there. Baby Ikesi and all those you know who have died who are among the saints in Heaven will be there. God allowed them to suffer and die temporarily so that they could receive the greatest good which is life in Heaven. And, it’s forever.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg