Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Grief and Community

This originally appeared in Wednesday Morning Connection

When I was growing up, everyone in the neighborhood had the local paper delivered for one reason only - to read the obituaries. I remember it being the first page my grandmother would turn to. She would read off the ages of those who died shooting a "see that" look at us whenever they were younger than she.

Reading the obituaries was not about a morbid obsession with mortality, it was about the duty to remember those who had died and to comfort the families. And the spiritual work of mercy to pray for the dead was taken very seriously. Funeral masses and monthly memorial masses were always well attended for that reason. My grandmother's prayer book bulges with memorial cards from funerals and wakes. All of it to commemorate those who have gone before us and to remember them in prayer that they enjoy the mercy of the Savior.

One of the popular readings for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is from the Book of Wisdom: "...their hope is full of immortality" (Wis.3:4). As a Christian people we approach death with hope and confidence for it is the gateway to an everlasting life with the God we long to see. Nonetheless, we never lose sight of the fact that death is a real loss. While the lives of our loved ones are changed and not ended, that change is real and leaves us with a deep sense of grief. Our words of comfort are always accompanied by gestures such as holding hands, crying together and remembering together. Grief brings us right up to one of life's great paradoxes for we are never so alone as when we lose a loved one, and yet we are never so remembered and never so held in prayer by a loving community.

Our shared grief creates community. In the recent past, we have probably never been so united as a country and as a world community as we were after September 11, 2001. There is a shared sense of loss when a soldier is killed, when young people senselessly lose their lives , and when people die unexpectedly in accidents. Even when the loss is economic, when we have even more reason to hold on to our money, we do not forget to be generous. In the face of pain, we remember who we are, that we are inter-connected.

Remembering those who have gone before us and praying for them is a demand of justice. Sharing grief is a constituent element of Christian community. The Church, in fact, was born in the upper room where Jesus shared a last meal with his disciples and where the apostles later gathered to mourn his death. The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is a time not only to remember where we came from and where we are going, but who we are - a people bonded by loss and directed by a hope full of immortality.


Loving Father,
We celebrate your victory over death
which we already taste when our grief
draws us into the consolation of community.

We pray for those who have gone before us
marked with the sign of faith,
that one more act of mercy may attend them
as they journey into your presence.

Make us generous so that no one may feel
abandoned in their bereavement.

We ask this through Christ our Lord
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.

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