That Jesus Christ is Lord!
For centuries, the Catholic Church has been the epicenter of where memorial services take place when someone dies, until now. In fact, the very reason the Church exists is because Christ Himself said, “Do this in memory of Me.” Yes, the power of memory, and to be able to share memories, is what separates human beings from other species. From the very beginning of time, humans have known God and have passed their memories along from one generation to the next. It is because of our memories, and the capacity to share those memories, that we have hope. Every follower of Christ has always understood just how important memories are in the life of the faithful. Unfortunately, in recent decades the secularists have taken our concept, but not our substance, and have left a void in the hearts of so many people today.
Let me explain. Today’s secular approach to death can be summed up in the all too common pithy statements, “Never Forget,” or “We keep so-and-so alive in our hearts,” or “As long as we remember so-and-so, he or she is still with us.” While these expressions can be a source of comfort for those who have lost someone, with the passage of time the act of remembering becomes empty. Lest we forget, behind the secular approach are the secular humanists, who are adamantly atheistic in their approach. Their atheism permeates everything they do and their ultimate goal is to make atheism the religion of our land. The irony is that they wish to use our language, but not using the foundation upon which it was built. In this context, they use the word memorial in a very limited scope – we are only to share memories of the deceased person and we do not remember anyone or anything else.
As I say so often at funerals, memories of a deceased loved one are important and help us paint a portrait of the individual. By many of us sharing our memories, we are able to capture the image of that individual once again. I even encourage those at the funeral to keep telling the stories, and to tell all the stories, good and bad alike. A true human being has happy and sad, good and bad, joyful and sorrowful moments throughout his or her life. It is good to tell all the stories because they are the fruit of the love we shared. In addition, telling stories means we are not alone, especially at a time when there is a void in our lives. To tell a story of someone, we must tell the story to someone. No one should ever try to endure grief alone, which is one of the reasons why being connected to a church community is so important.
However, I do remind everyone that the secular world, which tells us to keep remembering, does not give us the whole picture. This important fact must be said if our memories are going to make any sense at all. As a pastor and shepherd of souls, I say this to myself and to any priest or deacon, we must avoid asking those gathered to remember only the deceased person. If we stop there, we have cheated those who are mourning. I will say it over and over, telling the stories is not enough and if all we have are our memories, we will end up in despair. Yes, memories give us some peace in the days following a person’s death. However, with the passage of time those telling the stories will reach an outer limit and, once reached, will only have one of two ways left to go – the path of hope or the path of despair.
For those interested, there is an easy way to identify when someone has reached the outer limit. I have heard so many people use expressions like, “If I had one more chance to be with so-and-so,” or “If I could just have a chance to say such-and-such to him or her.” These statements are an indication of the longing we have to be reunited with someone we love. If I follow the secular path and only have memories, then I will end up on the path of despair because a loved one will cease to exist when the memories are exhausted. In our secular culture, we continually have memorial services in an attempt to keep the deceased alive by simply talking about him or her. But we all implicitly begin to realize that behind the atheistic face secularism is the fact that, for one who does not believe, the grave is an end. In relying on the memories of the person alone, those reaching the outer limit come to realize that life for the person is over, and there is no hope that they will have a chance to see him or her again. The longing to be with him or her again remains an open wound that cannot be cured.
Yet I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. At the very heart of our liturgical celebration is the memorial acclamation, which is a Faith statement affirming that the grave is not an end. At a secular gathering, they will ask a Christian to come and remember, so long as he or she does not remember the person as a Christian. At most secular memorials, we are asked to pretend that there is a religious service happening, but the only religion that is actually permitted is secularism, which has been built on atheism. Therefore, when a secular community gathers in mutual support of one another it is to remember the deceased only. No memory of the difference maker for all of history is permitted. By following their method, we eventually find ourselves on the path of despair. I prefer the path of Hope. What that means is that Jesus Christ must ratify the memories I have of a loved one who has died. Only in Him are we saved and only with Him is there Hope. Without Hope in Him Who died, rose, and will come again, there is no hope of ever seeing a deceased loved one again.
To die without Christ results in Death, but to die with Christ results in Life. If you are a Christian, you must repeat this fact every day. If you are telling the stories of someone who died, do not forget to end every story with the words “Jesus Christ.” Sadly, because the secular continues to dominate the public discourse, so many people today are dying without Christ. As a result, the only memories that are shared are the “good” ones. In this regard, we tend to canonize the deceased by only speaking about the good actions he or she did in this life, even though we know implicitly that the deceased, like you and me, was a sinner. So we are told to “honor” the person’s memory by not painting the whole picture, which would necessarily include sin. Without Christ, we cannot mention the sin because we know that if one dies without Christ the result is Death. But if the portrait of the person is to be about Life, then Christ must be part of the memorial because Christ is the remedy for Sin. With Christ there is Mercy and fullness of Redemption. Once we lose sight of this most important fact, souls are lost and the path of Hope disappears.