by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

A few quotes from Pope Francis:

“Death is not a topic that should be avoided but a reminder that cures men and women from any illusion of being all-powerful.”

“Our relationship with death … is always present.”

“A good death must be welcomed, not administered.”

“Jesus’ resurrection tells us that death does not have the last word, life does!”

The pope continually reflects this way on the teaching of Catholic/Christianity about death, exemplified in its annual “month of the dead,” November. In fact, the Gospel for this Sunday has Jesus proclaiming to his critics that “God is not God of the dead, but of the living; for Him all are alive.” That is the reason for the pope’s words and our constant proclamation of belief in “the communion of saints, resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

Stories often highlight profound thoughts like these. Here is one:

In the middle of a November night in 1989, six Jesuit priests and two of their female assistants were brutally murdered at the University of San Salvador (the UCA) by agents of the Salvadoran army. The “crime” they had committed was a preferential option for the poor implemented personally and professionally in all the departments of that educational center (including opening the campus to meetings of popular organizations). The super wealthy together with the military power of El Salvador at that time considered even the possession of a Bible as a capital crime. They even had paid newspaper advertisements encouraging to “kill a priest.”

A member of that Jesuit community, Jon Sobrino, a world-class theologian, was absent from the university that night, giving lectures on liberation theology in Bangkok, Thailand. His immediate return to El Salvador included a stopover in Washington, DC where a few of his friends met with him.

We fully expected to find a broken person, one who had just lost six friends, brother Jesuits and partners in that wonderful university that was a model of institutional solidarity with those who are poor and neglected. In addition, two other friends of his, a mother and daughter, had also been murdered.

Jon was obviously deeply affected by this devastating event. Through his sorrow he reflected on the near inevitability of the murders, given the fact that the Jesuits had received numerous and credible death threats over the years. Then toward the end of our conversation he said something which will remain imprinted on our memories forever.

“I firmly believe that death is not the final chapter in human existence – life is.”

Stories like this underscore the words of Pope Francis and the hope-filled Christian/Catholic belief mentioned above.

We take a moment here at the beginning of this special month of remembrance to consider the Catholic funeral rituals. Everything about them proclaims resurrection. At funeral Masses the Paschal Candle, symbol of the Risen Christ, which is blessed and lighted anew each year during the Easter Vigil, is placed in front of the casket. Then a white cloth is placed over it with the words: “On the day of baptism they put on Christ. In the day of Christ’s coming may they be clothed with glory.” Holy water, a reminder of baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, is then sprinkled on the casket.

The Scripture readings for funeral liturgies speak directly to the Catholic imagination about death:

“The souls of the dead are in the hands of God…” (Wisdom 3:1-9)

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54)

”Do not let your hearts be troubled… I am going to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-2)

The prayers during the Mass proclaim humanity’s incorporation into Christ’s resurrection. 

The final commendation invites the mourners to have hope in the midst of their tears. The gravesite is blessed with the reminder that Jesus himself was buried – and rose.

Pope Francis: “The best of life is yet to come.”

Photo of the martyrs’ garden at the UCA from America magazine

Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

3 thoughts on “Death does not have the last word

  1. Thank you! Need hope . .
    Especially during these very difficult times where everyone is weary and afraid.

  2. With joy we identify the RISEN SAVIOR
    our mission is to spread Christ as the light
    of the world.

  3. Thank you, Joe, for your reflection today. I went to El Salvador for the 40 anniversary of the 4 holy women who were killed there and we visited also the place where the Jesuits and those with them were also martyred. Such tragedies indeed and yet their “blood” was not in vain and life continues to rise up in the midst of the daily struggles for justice and reconciliation in that country and elsewhere around the globe. Today someone noted that “authentic death is going from lesser life to greater life”. Having just lost a dear friend on Friday , it was comforting to be reminded that we are help by Infinite Love each day .
    Years ago my youngest brother, Buckey, belonged to Our Lady of Peace and my mother and I came for liturgy there. It was a blessed experience to pray with your community. Peace and gratitude for sharing your gifts with Pax Christi.

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