Many of us have been remembering our loved ones who have died. With the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas coming things are somehow different now because of the memories of loss of loved ones. As I grow older there are fewer family members that sit around the Thanksgiving table. Today I am going to reflect on some ways to address our losses and ways to give us hope that they are still with us.
I remember when my own children were growing up I would take them out in the fields in August to gather green caterpillars from milkweed plants. They were hard to discover but we usually found five to six of the caterpillars. We would bring them home and put them in a large screened in box along with some of the milkweed plants. We would watch the caterpillars eat and eat the milkweed leaves and then one by one they would disappear. Upon looking closely we would discover green hanging ornaments hanging from the branches. They would be decorated with beautiful colors of silver. Day after day my daughters would watch them with anticipation. Suddenly one of them would shout that a butterfly was emerging from the green and silver home that had sheltered them until they were ready to emerge into a Monarch butterfly. Each butterfly spent time gently moving its wings until they were beautiful beings. When all four or five were fully developed we would all go outside as a family and open the cover. Some would fly away immediately and some would hover around the yard. It was very moving.
Now when I think of the story of the butterflies I see something new. When a loved one dies they are reborn into eternal life. They are free and beautiful spirits that have joined God in a heavenly kindom. They are eternally free of all encumbrances and they are living in an eternal life with God. Our loved ones who have died and have been reborn into the eternal kindom where there is no pain and suffering: only great joy and love of God!!
The first reading, Wisdom, is remarkable. We as relatives and friends of the departed have thought that “their leaving us was utter destruction…(but) they shall shine and shall dart about as sparks through the stubble”. Their sparks are like shining stars in the heavens.
Paul, in the second reading, says some very reassuring things. Because of our baptism into Christ Jesus and the Jesus was raised from the dead, we too will live: we two will live in the in newness of life. Our loved ones have been absolved from sin and are with Christ Jesus at the moment of death. What wonderful news this is!!! We will be forgiven and absolved by Jesus when we die. We do not have to be frightened any more about going to heaven because we might have sinned here on earth. We will be forgiven by God at the onset because Jesus has promised. I have talked to many people as chaplain. The greatest fear many have is that they might not make it heaven. I have to retell the story of how the dying and rising of Jesus from the dead has opened the way to eternity with great certainty. No more worry, no more fear because we are so precious in the love of God.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says the same thing. “Everyone that who sees (and believes) in me may have eternal life. I will raise you on the last day: meaning when you die. “ So, my friends I am speaking to you and to myself. Have no fear about dying rising to heaven. Enjoy the times you have right now. Be kind to yourselves and each other. Emulate Jesus’ actions of compassion to the poor. Work for peace and avoid bickering among ourselves. Live life as the loved ones in your life did when they were alive. Remember the kindnesses and the good they demonstrated This is what today and the holidays are all about. Tell and retell what you remember about your loved ones who have died. Do not complain about them but remember the goodness that was in them. There are lessons that can be learned from them and passed on to our children and grandchildren.
The story of the butterfly remains within our family as a lesson in dying and being reborn. We all have many stories of butterflies dying in jeweled cocoons; but rising again to a glorious life with God. We will be one of those butterflies.