The Last Word - November 2018

“Life is changed, not ended.”

November is a month in which we celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. We remember the canonized saints and, indeed, all who have died. During those two celebrations, we are reminded that death cannot separate us from one another, that there is a wonderful Communion of the Saints which connects us with those who have gone before us. We can pray for them and they can pray for us.

A classmate of mine in the seminary was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer shortly after ordination. His condition deteriorated to the point that one evening he “coded” in the hospital. After they revived him, I went to spend time with him at his bedside, preferring to visit him while he was alive rather than simply attending his funeral.

At one point while I kept vigil at his bedside, he looked at me and remarked how blessed I was. When I asked him what he meant by that, he commented that my older brother was in heaven praying for me. And my Uncle Johnny was in heaven praying for me. And my Uncle Clayton was in heaven praying for me. And, soon, he, too, would be in heaven praying for me. His next comment to me will forever stay with me. He said, “You have it made.”

He knew that even across the experience of human death, we remain connected with those who have gone before us. There is, indeed, a “community” that even death cannot destroy, all because of what Jesus has done for us. Our Lord’s passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father has made it possible to remain connected to those who have already experienced their final birth: birth into eternal life. In addition, we believe that we will all be reunited in God’s Kingdom at some point in the future.

And so, eight months after being ordained to the priesthood, Fr. Jim died. Even as he was dying, though, he gave me a glimpse of the connection that exists between the living and the dead: we still live even in death, albeit in a different way. We still have a relationship with all who have died before us. When he told me, “You have it made,” he reinforced what we profess in the Preface of the Dead I where we pray: “In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, that those saddened by the certainty of dying might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come. Indeed, for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.”

May Fr. Jim’s soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.

Father John R. Skehan

Pastor, St. Michael Parish, Augusta