It is the call that all of us dread getting.
Around 2:00 in the morning, Ron’s phone rang. It was his mother saying, “Come quick. Your brother has been in an accident.”
Throwing some clothes on, he got in his car and rushed to the hospital. The rest of the family was already there crying and hugging each other. Ron’s father walked up to him, put his arm on his shoulder and said, “Your brother didn’t make it.” While walking home after closing up the pizza place he worked at, he was struck by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel and was killed instantly.
Ron was devastated. His brother, Mike, was only eighteen years old. He had just started college and was the happiest Ron had ever seen him. All he could do was shake his fists in rage and through his tears cry out, “It’s not fair! It’s not fair!”
In what seemed like a fog, Ron managed to get through the next few days sitting through the wake and planning the funeral with his parents. However, when they stood around his brother’s grave to say their final farewell, Ron burst into tears all over again. “Why, God?! Why?I” is all he could say.
In his grief and anger, he was tempted to stop believing in God. How could a good God allow this to happen? None of it made any sense. At the same time, he realized that if there was no God then there was no heaven. And if there was no heaven, he would never see his brother again. He did not want to believe that. Like so many who have lost a loved one under tragic circumstances, he continued to believe in God grudgingly, but could not bring himself to go to Mass or to pray.
As time went by, Ron developed skills for coping with his grief. He would find himself talking to his brother when he was driving alone in the car of when he was lying awake in bed at night. Many times after work he would drive by the cemetery to visit his grave. Whenever something good would happen - if he had an especially good day at work or if a project he was working on went smoothly - he would credit it to Mike whom he began to call his angel.
The Thanksgiving after Mike’s death was especially difficult for the family. Since he was always the life of the party, they knew that Mike would want them to enjoy themselves. As they reminisced about the practical jokes he would play on them and the trouble he would get into, they all laughed and found comfort in his memory.
Suddenly, Ron was struck with an insight. Somehow, Mike was still alive. Of course, Ron knew he could not see him or talk to him as he once did. But that did not mean that he was dead. He was just living what he called “a higher existence”. Another insight struck him. This so-called “higher existence” was only possible because of God and His love. Drawing on what he remembered from his catechism classes, Ron also understood that eternal life is made available to us through the death of Jesus. In one moment of grace, it began to make sense to him. Though Mike’s death was senseless and tragic, God did not take him from Ron and his family forever. They still have a relationship with him and will one day be reunited with him in heaven where nothing will be able to separate them again.
Jesus assures us in today’s gospel that God “...is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” God created each one of us to live forever. Our earthly life is merely the beginning of an eternal life which we hope to spend in heaven. He created us for something greater than this world can offer. We can only understand ourselves fully when we keep this in mind. Furthermore, it puts into perspective all the injustice, suffering and tragedies that we experience in this life. It is merely the growing pains of the new heavens and new earth that God is preparing for us.
That eternal life is a gift which God offers to each of us. We are free to accept it or to reject it. We are free to believe or to disbelieve. In the face of life’s challenges and difficulties, we can decide that there must be some purpose to it all beyond our ability to understand and continue to press ahead. Or we can decide that it is not worth it and give up.
If we decide to believe, to accept our existence as God created it, we will be given the strength to face whatever challenges may come. As our second reading instructs us, “...the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” If we decide not to believe and to give up, God will continue to seek us out, to comfort us and to encourage us to not give up hope. This was Ron’s experience and the experience of so many others who, in the face of tragic circumstances, come to find meaning and new purpose through God’s grace.
Our Heavenly Father has destined us for eternal life. Just as the seed is different from the tree that it produces, so that heavenly life will be far different from the life we now live on earth. It is beyond anything we could ever hope for or imagine. We do know one thing however. We hope to be reunited with the ones we love, we hope to gaze on God’s grandeur and we believe that it never end. Because of this hope, we keep His commandments and draw nourishment from the sacraments of His love. May Saint Paul’s blessing in today’s second reading inspire us to go forward with courage and faith: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.”
(image by Marisol Sousa)