14 November 2009

Three aspects of death.

Su Wk 33 Yr B

“As for that day or hour, nobody knows it.” Jesus is talking, today, about the end times. As we move toward the end of the Church’s liturgical year we think especially of those who have died. November is the month for praying for the Holy Souls. Jesus could, just as easily, have been talking about our own death, the end of our life on earth, and it is death which I would like to talk about this morning. Three aspects of death to be precise: euthanasia or assisted suicide and having your say, planning our own Funeral Mass and the launch of the Bereavement Group within the parish.

A central theme of our readings is the end times; they are ‘apocalyptic’ in nature. Whilst we are confident of the Resurrection, and we hope to enjoy the beatific vision in due course, we do not pray for life here on earth to be hastened to a swift end. Whilst I was at seminary and recently returned to the Faith, I would often pray for Pope John Paul II as his health began to fail him. I was heard to say we must pray to St Joseph for a ‘quick end’. Through the kind intervention of a good friend, he corrected me that we pray to St Joseph not for a ‘quick end’ but rather a happy death. There is a world of difference.

Even my terminology of a ‘quick end’ seeks to deny it is death of which I talk. Often language is used to soften the harsh reality, like when we talk of assisted suicide as an act of mercy. How can it ever be merciful to take a life? Such a notion is at odds with our understanding of the value of life. It is precisely because we value all life that we stand shoulder to shoulder with those who suffer, and most especially with those who are suffering to such an extent that they are considering killing themselves. Our hope in the Risen Lord, He who has “offered one single sacrifice”, compels us to walk along the path of darkness, the path of the suicidal, but it does not lead us to ‘assist’ them. It is our duty, in protecting the vulnerable, to cry out against those who, wrongly, consider assisted suicide to be acceptable.

Our Bishops encourage us to speak out on this issue and to contact the Director of Public Prosecution. A briefing paper is available at the back of Church. Make your voice heard. It is important we act now. I will be writing to Geoffrey Robinson, our MP, and I hope you will join me in ensuring those who are vulnerable are protected.

Thank God for the wonder of our Faith which enables us to face the challenge of death and to know that He has overcome the power of hell. It is not wrong to consider and make plans for our own Funeral Mass. It is not morbid to do this, but rather an act of charity, which will greatly aid those who love us to make the necessary arrangements when the time comes. Anyone who has been involved in planning a funeral knows just how valuable it is to know the express wishes of their relative or friend. To this end, we also have at the back of Church a form which you may find helpful in considering and recording your plans. Talk to those whom you love, let them know your wishes and record your thoughts.

Finally, I want to talk about that time after death, and talk especially to those who have felt the pain of grief. Shakespeare said “My grief lies all within, and these external manners of lament are merely shadows to the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul.” There is nothing, it seems, that can be said or done to help those who grieve. We are, nonetheless, a community of lovers and, to this end; we are beginning a Bereavement Group during Advent who will, especially, walk that lonely path of sorrow. There is a Turkish proverb which goes “he that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it.” The Bereavement Group will be, for our parish, one part of the remedy we seek.

We can, and we do, talk of death. Death has no hold over us and we are learned in its ways. The light of Christ shines out as a beacon for us, and we, in turn, hope to be the learned that “will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven.”


  1. How wonderful your Parish is starting this group Father!

  2. This is a courageous sermon which you will be giving (have given). Perhaps at a later date you'll let us know how it was received.

    Death is not something often spoken of at Sunday Mass.

    God bless.

  3. Thank you, shadowlands - the group will be a success, please God.

    Victor, thank you for your words of encouragement. There was a 'deathly' silence during the delivery and some really positive comments afterwards. I would encourage you to give your priest feedback on his homilies. It helps them (or at least it helps me) to improve in the future.




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