Saturday, April 10, 2010



My cousin Judy, a year younger than me, was one of my closest friends when I was a young monk. She patiently helped me through some very rough times by offering a listening heart and some wise observations. Then some years ago she mysteriously withdrew, not answering my phone messages or occasional letters of invitation. So we drifted apart until we had no communication at all. It was strange. I never was able to find out if I had done something to offend her, or if she had simply decided to devote all her emotional energy to her career as an esteemed college professor.

Then two weeks ago I found out why she had withdrawn: she had been fighting a battle with certain “demons” in her life and wasn’t letting anybody help her. By the end she had withdrawn even from her siblings and closest friends. She finally lost the battle, and her sister and two brothers planned a belated requiem mass for her to be celebrated by a priest who had worked with her for years in campus ministry.

The Easter Test

So it was that the other day, Thursday in the octave of Easter, my Easter faith was put to a very practical test when I concelebrated her funeral mass. It was just a small memorial mass with her cremated remains present. I had offered to play the music, since like most of our extended family, Judy used to love to sing while her brother and I played our guitars.

I began singing and playing at the mass weighed down with a tremendous sadness over the lonely death she had died and grieving for our long-ago friendship that had been so important in shaping my young adult life. But as sometimes happens when I’m singing in church, the words and the melodies of the songs began to seep into my soul and lift my spirits. I realized that I was celebrating Judy’s life of goodness and generosity, celebrating our beautiful friendship, celebrating our wonderful family and, especially during this Easter Week, celebrating our Christian conviction that death never has the final word. Never! I was singing and playing for my wonderful cousin Judy whose torments are finally over and who is enjoying the blessed peace promised to God’s “good and faithful servants.”

By the time I was leading the recessional to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” I felt as if I were singing defiantly into the teeth of death itself. Here are the words I was singing. Maybe one or another line will speak to your heart, too.

Sing with all the saints in glory, sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story, to the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking, soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we, awaking, know the everlasting peace.

O what glory, far exceeding all that eye has yet perceived!
Holiest hearts, for ages pleading, never that full joy conceived.
God has promised, Christ prepares it, there on high our welcome waits.
Every humble spirit shares it; Christ has passed th’eternal gates.

Life eternal! Heaven rejoices; Jesus lives, who once was dead.
Join we now the deathless voices; child of God, lift up your head!
Patriarchs from the distant ages, saints all longing for their heaven,
Prophets, psalmists, seers, and sages, all await the glory given.

Life eternal! O what wonders crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
When, amidst earth’s closing thunders, saints shall stand before the throne!
O to enter that bright portal, see that glowing firmament;
Know, with Thee, O God immortal, “Jesus Christ Whom Thou has sent.”

I’ll end my remarks with a verse from another hymn. These are words which I have sung defiantly into the face of death on plenty of occasions over the years and which seem to work well here:

The powers of death have done their worst;
But Christ their legions hath dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst: Alleluia!



...... ..............“Death is swallowed up in victory.
......................Where, O death, is your victory?
......................Where, O death, is your sting?”
................................................-1 Cor. 15:55

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