In this Sunday’s Gospel, the Sadducees challenge Jesus on the belief in resurrection—a realm beyond the physical world. Jesus counters by using Moses’ own words: the Lord “is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” As Christians, we profess our belief in eternal life through evidence of Jesus’ death and resurrection and his own words: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11: 25-26). According to the recent Vatican document on Christian burial and cremation, belief in the resurrection “is the culminating truth of the Christian faith.”
After my mother died, I accompanied Dad to the funeral home for his first viewing of Mom in the casket. With trepidation, we entered the funeral home and were solemnly led into the parlor. At first, Dad stayed back, mustering strength to see his beloved wife laid in a box created for the earth. After a few moments, Dad took a deep breath, stepped forward and stood next to the casket, peered in and remarked, “Mama’s not here!” Satisfied, he turned around, ready to return home. Indeed, Mama was no longer in the shell of her body. Her soul had departed and she was now living in a different—spiritual—reality.
Though “Mama’s not here,” in some respect, she’s closer than ever. Believing in the resurrection, I freely share my struggles, sorrows, joys and dreams with her. While I continue to pray for her, I also quickly ask her to pray for me and loved ones: “Hey Mom, we could really use a little help right now. Please pray for us.” I eagerly express moments of happiness with her: “Oh Mom, aren’t you so delighted with this new great-grandbaby?” She is here, right now, in a deeply personal way.
Mom is like an angel as she is always with us, but she is not an angel. Sometimes, when desperate to comfort a grieving person, we blurt out, “She’s an angel now.” Though sincere, not true. Angels are purely spiritual creatures who serve as special messengers of God. Unlike angels, humans are embodied creatures, and on the Last Day will be given new, incorruptible bodies. Because God became man, in Christ, we are eternally physical and spiritual beings.
Parents wisely name grace—God’s redeeming presence—when a loved one dies: “We pray Grandma is alive in heaven with Jesus.” “You can always talk with Grandma and ask her to pray for you.” We name grace when we share our core Christian belief: through baptism, united with Christ, we will live forever.
When heading off to the monastery, singer Danielle Rose composed the song, “See You in the Eucharist.” Though she would no longer be physically present to her family and friends, she would meet them—spiritually—in the Eucharist. Each time we participate in the Eucharist, we are united in faith with our beloved deceased to worship the Lamb of God “with all the angels and archangels, and with the great multitude of saints.” God’s love is stronger than death, and we can believe in his promise of everlasting life, knowing one day we will be united with all our loved ones—body and soul. Now when I attend Mass, I pause and smile, “Mama’s right here.” Now, that’s good news!
- How do you speak about death with your children?
- How would you describe heaven?
For more information, please read the Vatican document on Christian burial and cremation here: