‘Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s’

Friday 13 November 2020 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features

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‘Whether  we live or die, we are  the Lord’s’
Turama celebration is a specific occasion to connect with the dead by praying with and for them. SUPPLIED/20111224

More than a person has mentioned to me the high number of funerals we seem to be having this year. I agree. A little surprising in that none of these deaths in the country is from Covid-19. By Bishop Paul Donoghue (Catholic Church).

While knowing we cannot change the number of deaths, I find myself wanting to deal with the reality of death in a positive way. The Catholic Church has its particular way of remembering our dead in that the month of November is dedicated to their memory. This begins with the evening known as “Turama” on November 1st. This celebration gives us a specific occasion to connect with our dead by praying with and for them. Where possible, we visit the graves in the cemetery.

The use of flowers on the grave is an appreciation of the love we have for our deceased relatives. We are grateful for the contribution that their actions made in our lives during their life time. Then, there is the use of light to remind us of Christ’s teaching on death: that he is the resurrection and the life. Because of the Resurrection of Christ, we accept that death is no longer the end of everything.

Our response is one of joy and hope. We are confident that as death “no longer has dominion over Jesus,” (Romans 6:9), it has no more power over us, either, who belong to Jesus. We know if we believe in Jesus, though we die, yet shall we live. (cf Romans 14:8)

During the month of November, we use many of the scripture texts that speak to us of the kingdom of God. It is here that we will be invited into or rejected for eternal life by arriving at the door dressed in the wedding garment (Matthew 22:12).  I am just using one passage, Matthew 25: 1 – 13. But there are many others such as Luke 20: 27 -38 or Matthew 25: 31 – 46 that you can turn to.

In this parable of the 10 bridesmaids, we learn some facts of how Jewish weddings were conducted. In Jesus’ time, it was customary for weddings to be celebrated at night; so, the procession of guests took place with lit lamps.

In the parable some bridesmaids are presented as being foolish; they take their lamps but do not take oil with them. The wise ones take the oil together with their lamps.

The bridegroom is late, late in coming, and they all fall asleep. When a voice alerts them that the bridegroom is about to arrive, the foolish ones, at that moment, realise that they do not have oil for their lamps. They ask the wise ones for some, but they reply that they cannot give any oil because there would not be enough for them all.

While the foolish virgins go to buy oil, the bridegroom arrives. The wise virgins enter the banquet hall with him, and the door is closed. The others arrive too late and are turned away.

It is clear that with this parable, Jesus wants to tell us that we must be prepared for His coming. Not only the final coming but also for the everyday encounters, great and small, with a view to that encounter, for which the ‘lamp of faith’ is not enough; we also need the ‘oil of charity’ and good works.

As the Apostle Paul says, the faith that truly unites us to Jesus is, “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). It is what is represented by the behaviour of the wise virgins. Being wise and prudent means not waiting until the last moment to correspond to God’s grace, but to do so actively and immediately, starting right now. “I … yes, I will convert soon” … “Convert today! Change your life today!”, “Yes, yes, tomorrow”. And the same thing is said tomorrow, and so it never arrives. Today! If we want to be ready for the final encounter with the Lord, we must cooperate with Him now and perform good deeds inspired by His love.

As we have supported families in bereavement over recent weeks, what are some of the messages we can take out of these deaths for ourselves? One is that each one of us has a definitive appointment with God.

The parable of the ten bridesmaids is warning us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute. “It is far too late for a student to be preparing when the day of the examination has come. It is too late for a man to acquire a skill, or a character, if he does not already possess it, when some task offers itself to him. Similarly, it is easy to leave things so late that we can no longer prepare ourselves to meet with God.” (cf W Barclay’s Daily Study Bible)

“The second warning in the parable is that there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish virgins found it impossible to borrow oil, when they discovered they needed it. A man cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it for himself. A man cannot borrow a character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things we must win or acquire for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others.” (ibid 2)

At the finish of an article on death, our Christian hope leads us surely to focus on life. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans takes us there. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14: 8) 

In a lighter fashion I appreciated the Prime Minister’s comment at the prayer service for protection from both Covid-19 and cyclones on Sunday night when he informed us “this year there has been more births at the Rarotonga hospital!”

C.S Lewis sums it all up saying “Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of us will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects”