Saturday, April 26, 2014

Homily on the Occasion of the Death of a Student

About a month ago, a Boston University student was killed while home on Spring Break.  Today, some members of his family, some of his classmates and friends, and members of the BU Community offered Mass for the repose of his soul.  I do not usually preach from a written text, so here is the homily as best I can recall.

Last Saturday night, this chapel was in total darkness until this Paschal Candle--burning beside me--was carried inside the chapel.  I am struck by the fact that although the candle illumined the chapel, the darkness somehow still remains.  In a way, the candle sheds light on the darkness.  It allows us to see in the darkness, but it doesn't all at once eliminate it.  

Today, all of you who know and love Diego come here and are burdened by his tragic death.  You are filled with sorrow and feel the pain and the agony of his loss.  I do not pretend that I have any words that will magically eliminate that sorrow and pain.  In fact, I do not think that is what Christ wants for us today.  This is not how Christ tends to work.

We just heard in Mark's Gospel how the Risen Lord Jesus appeared to various persons who then went and reported these encounters to the Lord's disciples.  Each time that they came to the disciples, the disciples refused to believe them.  We can understand this.  The disciples had seen their friend publicly humiliated and executed in an horrific manner.  Death always seems so final.  Death has a way of seeming to be the final word on our existence.  The disciples saw the Lord die.  How could he now be risen?

Last Saturday night, little by little, the darkness was pushed from this chapel.  At first, it was the light from the Paschal Candle, but one by one, candles being held by persons in this chapel were lighted. Soon, darkness was conquered by light.  But, it happened little by little.  In the Gospel we heard today, we see that the light of the Resurrection did not immediately illuminate every heart.  Jesus appeared to one, two, three persons and soon, the joyful news of the resurrection was passed from one to the next until the Church filled the earth with the light of Christ.

The light of Christ is, in a sense, maddening.  Despite whatever sorrow or evil we encounter; no matter how deep the darkness that surrounds us, this candle still flickers.  It is relentless.  Even when we ourselves seek to extinguish it or run from it, it continues to shed its radiance.  Darkness cannot overcome it.

This was the gift that you gave to Diego when you brought him to be baptized.  On that day, in his soul, the light of Faith began to flicker.  I think none of us has any idea how powerful and relentless this light is in our souls.  Even when we attempt to extinguish it, it maintains a powerful resistance.

To me, it seems inhuman to pretend that anything we can say in this moment will eliminate the darkness that we experience at Diego's death.  Instead, I propose that we keep vigil beside this Paschal Candle.  Allow the light of Christ to illuminate our darkness and to help us to comprehend the full breadth of all that has happened.  Little by little, the perpetual flicker of this powerful light and its capacity to be passed from one person to the next, will provide us a sure and certain confidence to live through the darkness of this hour.

You will see Diego again.  This is our sure and certain hope in Christ.  Death is not the final word on our existence.  This is the promise of this Paschal Candle.  Until the Day of the Resurrection, we will continue to experience the darkness of sorrow and pain.  But, the light of Christ is relentless and faithful.  We are moving toward the Dawn of Glory.  On that day, the radiance of the Risen Christ will cast out all darkness and in his light, we will see only light.  

Until then, I pray that the Faith that you were given in your own baptism, continues to burn in the midst of this darkness and illuminates your path, and that it grants to you the warmth of consolation.  In his baptism, Diego was given the light of Christ.  May this light--like a flickering candle--lead him and all of us through the darkness of life to the radiant glory of the Beatific Vision.

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