If we live long enough, we will experience the death of someone we have loved. If we live a long life, we will experience even more of the pain of losing those close to us. I remember my maternal grandfather sharing with me when he was around ninety that he had outlived most of his siblings and friends. Unfortunately, for too many death is a daily event through violence in all its forms. Grief during this time of loss is a natural human response. It is certainly not an emotion to be suppressed.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus shared: “But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts” (Jn 16:6). Jesus was preparing them for his suffering and death, but also letting them know that they would not be left alone. He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. The Apostles were not able to understand what Jesus was talking about. Who can blame them? They had no point of reference for someone dying and rising again, let alone that he would ascend and send the Third Person of the Trinity to be with them.
The Apostles would not only feel the grief of the loss of Jesus they would also experience the fear of the same persecution that took him and experience the fear of their own death. They betrayed Jesus, abandoned him, yet, except for Judas, because he had taken his own life, Jesus came to them again after his Resurrection and forgave them. Jesus would in a short time ascend, and the disciples, with Mary, would experience the love and grace of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they faced what was before them head-on, even to experience their own violent deaths, except for John. The fear of death had no more power over them, their grief and their fear were turned into joy from their encounter with the Risen Jesus and the Love of the Holy Spirit they experienced first hand.
For us, as with the Apostles, grief is real, because death is a loss, it is a change in our present reality. Yet, we celebrate this Easter Season for fifty days for a reason. Death has lost its sting. Jesus has died, entered into the fullness of everything that death threw at him, and he conquered it. Jesus died for each one of us so that we can also rise with him, and be with him and our loved ones again for all eternity.
We can believe in our minds that death does not have the final answer, yet we may still feel the grief, the pain of loss, or the fear of the unknown as we or someone we love prepares for death. We need to be honest with our emotions, and not stifle them, thinking by showing grief that we are in some way less a person of faith. In allowing ourselves to enter into our pain, we will experience the Risen Christ who is waiting to embrace us in the reality of the truth that he has conquered death. I have taken much comfort in his presence over these past seven months since JoAnn died.
To experience our grief is healthy, but we do need to be careful it does not overwhelm us. I had a two day period after returning back home where the weight of my grief hit pretty hard, and fortunately received a phone call from my VP Theresa Frettered inviting me to a diocesan event. I hesitated but said yes. Terry that day was a messenger of the Holy Spirit inviting me to come out for some air.
The time of grief is different for each person. “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Jesus has welcomed JoAnn and our loved ones home with him and is preparing to welcome us home when it is our time as well. We can experience the foretaste of heaven, the love of God the Father, now when we pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit to be with us in our daily experiences so that we can come to know him, to believe and trust that death does not have the final answer. The love of Jesus does. Because of this truth, we can live our lives each day as Alleluia people!