“FIRST IMPRESSIONS”

COMMEMORATION OF ALL THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED (A) NOV 2, 2017

Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 23; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40

by Jude Siciliano, OP


Dear Preachers:


When my parents died a some years ago I was comforted by scriptural verses like those selected for today’s celebration.

The Book of Wisdom doesn’t go out of its way to describe where the souls of the dead are right now. But it does offer consoling words we are invited to place our hope in: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God.” Which is similar to what I held on to when my parents died. I’ve told people that I don’t know where they are, or what they are doing right now; I just believe that they have fallen into the hands of a merciful God. Family and friends pictured mom in heaven cooking up her Sunday pasta with her sisters and dad playing pinochle with his brothers-in-law. What wonderful images they are and I am sure they offered comfort to my family at the gravesides. But all I hung on to were those merciful hands of God who created my parents, sustained them in a simple and trusting faith through hard times and final illnesses and now, is showering mercy and love on them. As Wisdom puts it, “The souls of the just are in the hand of God.”

Wisdom has some particular souls in mind; those whose “passing away was thought an affliction” and who were “tried” during their lifetime. People are tempted to give up on God when life offers struggles. Wisdom’s view of our hardships is that they are like offerings placed on the altar to God. By reason of our baptismal priesthood, we are priests who offer our life’s service and struggles to God, We have the hope that the Book of Wisdom gives us, “the faithful shall abide with God in love, because grace and mercy are with God’s holy ones.” There, we hear it again, a variation on what I was hearing at the time of my parents’ deaths, “they have fallen into the hands of a merciful God.” That is all we can know for sure now – and it is enough for people whose hope is in God.

That is also the focus of Paul’s words to us today – Hope. This hope is based on God’s love for us. Paul tells us that God’s love has shown itself very concretely in Jesus’ acceptance of death on our behalf. We didn’t earn or deserve this love; it was given to us while we were sinners. “But God proves God’s love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” We need not fear death, not as much as some of us do, if we believe that we are falling into the loving hands of God. Jesus is the sure sign of God’s love for us. Sin did not prevent God from showing us love in Jesus and, because of Jesus, sin need not keep us separated from God in this life or the next. God is offering us reconciliation: “we were reconciled to God through the death of [God’s] Son.”

In this life and in the next, we are reconciled to God by our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we waver in that faith, as we might do facing the death of a loved one after a long and painful illness, or when we consider our own death, it is the Holy Spirit who continually pours into our hearts the reassurance that God loves us. Nothing, not even sin and death, can separate us from the love of God. So, it isn’t only in death that we fall into the hands of a loving God – through Jesus we are already in God’s hands and those hands are molding us more and more into trusting children of God. Paul says it succinctly: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

The gospel continues the message: we are secure in the hands of a loving God, both in this life and the next. Some of my childhood images of God keep sneaking up on me when I think of how God deals with sin. Those images presented a very angry God who meted out a stern justice and was ready to strike down sinners – except for the intervention of Jesus, the beloved Son, who got between us and God’s raised fist. Funerals at that time weren’t much help in dispelling those images of God. The vestments were black and the hymns dour, especially the “Dies Irae,” (“Day of Wrath”), a medieval hymn which depicted God’s stern judgement on the dead. (Some classical composers have incorporated that melody in their pieces to convey an atmosphere of dread and foreboding.) It was hard to determine who would have the last word over our souls: the God of our last judgment, or the compassionate judge Jesus.

We should have read more scripture in those days – for example, today’s gospel. John shows that God does not have a split personality: the angry and exacting Judge of all humankind and the forgiving and loving Christ. Rather, John tells us that in Jesus, God has drawn close to us. Wisdom’s reassurance that the dead are in the “hand of God” is echoed in today’s gospel. Jesus is the visible manifestation of God’s loving hand which holds the faithful securely in this life and will not let us go in the next.

John puts it this way: Jesus has come to give us eternal life – beginning now. Eternal life is now because, in Christ, we are already in an intimate relationship with God and God’s life is in us. This relationship starts now and is not broken by death, for Christ says he will raise us up “on the last day.” Shall we accept the life Christ is offering us now and receive the loving God into our lives?

We already have the gift of God’s life in us, but we gather each Sunday to be reminded and strengthened in that life. How does it happen? The sign of the believing community gathered with us today encourages us. Hearing the Word of God makes God’s active and creative power present to us. The Eucharist we receive is the food that sustains our hope. Now and into the next life, God’s hands will never let us go.

Jesus assures us today, “I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” He is very clear that it is his intention to enter into a permanent relationship with us, for it is also, “the will of the one who sent me,” not to lose anyone God put into Jesus’ care.

On this feast and the days which surround it, the Mexican community celebrates “the Day of the Dead.” Family members visit the graves of their deceased and take the dead person’s favorite foods. At the grave family and friends, adults and children, have a picnic: they tell stories of their dead and share the food they brought. It is an expression of the undying bonds of love that unite them to their family members who have passed to the other side. They also believe that the spirits of their loved ones are alive and, in some way, still with them.

We don’t have to be of Mexican descent to celebrate the lives of our deceased family and friends. Aren’t we doing something similar to what our Mexican brothers and sisters do when we gather at Eucharist on this day? We share stories from the scriptures, the family stories we have in common. We then eat the “favorite foods” that nourished our deceased brothers and sisters: the eucharistic bread and wine that sustained them in their living and dying and that gives us hope that someday we will again eat at a banquet table with one another and the risen Lord.

This is a time to go to visit the cemetery and share stories of the dead with our children. We could recall their lives, how they lived their faith and passed that faith on to us. We might open family albums for our little ones and, like a storybook reading in the evening, tell them the stories of their deceased grandparents, uncles, aunts, and our friends. We could include prayers for them as we pray bedtime prayers with the little ones.

In our part of the globe it is Autumn and nature seems to be “passing away” around us. But we have firm hope that, after a season of rest and bareness, the earth will come alive again. We also have a secure hope, based on Jesus’ promise to us, that he has given us eternal life and that, with him and one another, we shall rise “on the last day.”

 

FAITH BOOK


Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. “Faith Book” is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

 

From today’s Gospel reading:

 

Jesus said to the crowds...
And this is the will of the One who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what God gave me,
but that I shall raise it on the last day.

 

Reflection:

 

In today’s gospel John shows that God does not have a split personality consisting of: the angry and exacting Judge of all humankind...and the forgiving and loving Christ. Rather, John tells us, in Jesus, our loving God has drawn close to us. Jesus is the visible manifestation of God’s loving hand which holds the faithful securely in this life and will not let us go in the next.

 

So we ask ourselves:

 

As I recall my beloved dead, do I believe that God holds them securely in loving hands?

What can I do today to comfort someone who has recently suffered a death of a loved one?

Shall I pray for those who have died recently, alone and now forgotten?

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

 

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

 

DONATIONS


“First Impressions” is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like “First Impressions” sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org

 

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P., St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

 

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

 

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

 

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com  and clicking on the “First Impressions” CD link on the left.

2. “Homilias Dominicales” —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.


3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com  - Where you will find “Preachers’ Exchange,” which includes “First Impressions” and “Homilias Dominicales,” as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.


4. “First Impressions” is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like “First Impressions” sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.

 


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626