Before my mother died last October, she spent some weeks in hospital in Galway. As she left home to go there for treatment we hadn’t suspected this might be her last time with us though her health was failing, well beyond recovery. As she was helped into my sister’s car she gave a look around at everything, the house, the flower garden, her home where she lived all of her life. It was a look that seemed to say ‘goodbye’. A poignant gaze that betrayed her realization that she would not return. I wondered what went through her mind as she passed through familiar towns on that last trek to Galway. She spent five weeks in hospital, comfortable but getting weaker. Sharp as a tack mentally. In that time, we as a family came to realize the fateful truth that she was dying. She became reconciled to the fact that she was no longer going to be with us. She was at peace with it. She wanted us to be at peace with it too. We talked, laughed and cried in no order. At last a phone call from my sister broke the news that she was ‘gone’. I was on my way in the car when I got the news.
Resurrection from the dead is central to the Christian message. The Church now calls us to prepare spiritually by fasting from Ash Wednesday till Easter. At the end of this we collectively remember the liberation of the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt to their arrival in the Promised Land; a land of “milk and honey”. The original Passover which we celebrate at this time is means by which this could take place. We also recount the story of Jesus Passion, Death and Resurrection; the New Passover. This story which we relive prefigures our own personal story of being saved from eternal disaster. It takes on a whole new significance for my siblings and I as it is the first Easter without our mother. No longer a theory or abstraction but something very real to ponder. It takes the meaning and mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus to a whole new level. Christ resurrected from the dead and opened the doorway to eternal life for us. That’s a mind-blowing mystery. Again, from St Paul this time to the Romans ‘If in union with Christ we have imitated Him in death, we shall also imitate Him in his Resurrection’
My mother is more alive now than ever before. Hard to believe. The body in the coffin which I personally blessed with holy water and incensed at her funeral is not my mother any longer. Merely her remains.
In 1 Corinthians 15:14 St Paul tells us “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching has been in vain and your faith is in vain”. If as many say, in our increasingly materialist culture, there is no Resurrection then there is nothing at the end of the road for us. Death is merely a tragedy devoid of any meaning, any purpose. If there is no resurrection for us then everything is gone everything is lost. Sure, it is not easy to grasp the idea of life after death with our finite rational minds. It cannot be quantified, measured or tested in a laboratory. Science itself, for all its celebrated success cannot answer the ultimate question; “what lies beyond the passage from this life in death? Sure, some feel confident that science may one day enable us to live substantially longer lives, but that merely defers the final question. When celebrities die rarely is the question asked in the news media; “where are they now?”. We reminisce about their accomplishments and fame but rarely deal with the awkward question.
In our Easter ceremonies, we muster our best liturgical efforts to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His legacy is unlike any other left by a historical figure. So, it is fitting that we honour Him individually in our heart of hearts, and collectively as Church at this time. My mother believed in Heaven. A great woman of prayer. Her discomfort and pain never interrupted her nightly rosary and devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus before she retired to her bed. Souls in Purgatory, neighbours friends or family, everyone was covered. Her loss to us at this time is obviously traumatic. It would be unnatural for it not to be. But my personal sense is that we as family are blessed to be mysteriously closer to Heaven than ever before. My mother knew that everything she cherished was being taken from her in her final days. Or more correctly she was being asked to let go of them. She could only do so because she was being offered an infinitely greater Gift. There was no doubt in her mind. This is why we join with her in singing Alleluia this Easter.