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May our prayers accompany the dead, comfort the living

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

On the first day of Lent, the minister uses ashes made from last year’s Palm Sunday branches to make a black cross on our forehead while saying: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This somber symbol and phrase is meant to remind us of the passing nature of the things of this world as well as our own mortality.

The Kansas City community is reeling from the senseless killing of Lisa Lopez- Galvan and the wounding of many others at the rally celebrating the Chiefs’ Super Bowl Championship. Lisa was a beloved wife, mother, sister, aunt, Miege alum, St. Agnes parishioner, and fellow Catholic. I encourage all of you to pray for Lisa, her family, and many friends. The death of a loved one is always difficult, but that difficulty is magnified when it happens very unexpectedly and under such tragic circumstances.

I have referred many times in this column to the murder of my father on Dec. 18, 1948. When I was a young adult, I asked my mother why she never remarried. I asked if she thought remarrying would be somehow disloyal to my father.  She replied that my father would have wanted her to remarry, if she met the right man. I got the impression that they had a conversation about this  immediately before he left to fight in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

My mother said that her life was very full with taking care of my brother and me, her vocation as a teacher and her volunteer ministry as a member of the Legion of Mary. My mother added that she feared ever again going through the pain of losing a spouse.

I have never forgotten her candid admission of the great pain she suffered because of my father’s unexpected death. Mom was blessed to be surrounded by a community of very supportive family and friends. Her parish community was particularly helpful to her during her time of mourning and grief.

This has always made me deeply aware of the trauma experienced by the sudden death of a spouse, parent or child. It is very important that as a church, we do everything possible to surround those grieving the death of a loved one with prayer and compassionate support.

Fortunately, my mother never succumbed to the fallacy of blaming God for a tragedy that resulted from human sin. She did not allow herself to be consumed by a desire for vengeance. Despite this tragedy, Mom was keenly aware of God’s blessings. She never indulged in considering herself a victim.

The alternative phrase that the minister of ashes can say while tracing the cross on the forehead is: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  These are the very words on the lips of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel as Our Lord began his public ministry.

Note that his first words were not “All are welcome,” but rather, “Repent.”  Jesus beckons his would-be disciples to first acknowledge their sins, their brokenness, their need for a redeemer. In case we had forgotten, the senseless shooting at the Super Bowl Rally reminded us that we live in a world that is broken because of human sin.

This brokenness began with the rebellion of our first parents, Adam and Eve, when they violated the one limitation God had placed upon them in Eden. They chose to believe the lie that the meager limit God placed upon them was not for their protection, but a cruel effort to deprive them of knowledge and power.

If you want evidence of the original sin, just read the morning newspaper or your online news feed. When we push God out of our world, it then becomes every person for themselves, grasping for material things, power, human approval and pleasure. We are seeking happiness in all the wrong places. The human heart was created to be in communion with God, not separated from him.

Gospel means “good news”!  The good news is that if we repent from attempting to be the gods of our own lives, then God is eager to shower us with his merciful love. The good news is something no other world religion believes — that despite our sinfulness, God continued to pursue us ­— even to the point of immersing himself in our humanity by humbling himself to become an embryo in the womb of Mary.

Jesus is the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. The Second Person of the Triune God entered into our brokenness, even to the point of enduring the greatest injustice and suffering — death on a cross. From Calvary, Our Lord interceded for us, asking forgiveness for those responsible for his crucifixion.

The good news is that Jesus defeated sin and death with the paschal mystery — his death and resurrection. Our Lord offers to us through the waters of baptism a share in his life, eternal life.

My mother, while grieving the death of my father, clung to the truth of Our Lord’s fidelity to be with his disciples until the end of time. Jesus did not promise his followers that we would be free from suffering and difficulty. Instead, Our Lord told his disciples that they must be prepared to embrace the cross. What Jesus did promise is that we would never be alone, especially in the midst of adversity and suffering.

Moreover, there is no Easter without Calvary. The Resurrection reveals that God can bring forth good from evil, life from death.

The Christian is not immune from grief and sadness. Of course, we mourn  the death of our loved ones because we experience the excruciating pain of separation from those who are dear to us. At the same time, we are consoled with the blessed assurance that their destiny is heaven, where there will be no more tears or sadness but eternal life and the fullness of life with Jesus.      

We accompany those who have died with our sincere prayers. We implore the Lord to purify and free them from any sinful attachments. We pray with confidence to a loving and merciful God that our loved ones will be admitted to the heavenly wedding banquet. We pray for those who deeply grieve their deaths, that the God of compassion will console and comfort their hearts.

Please pray for Lisa Lopez-Galvan. She followed Our Lord faithfully in this world. May Jesus now welcome her to the wedding feast of heaven. Pray the Lord of mercy will comfort and console the hearts of her husband Mike, as well as her children, Marc and Adriana, and all of her family and many friends.

Thank God for the gift of our Catholic faith and the sure and certain hope it provides us, even in the midst of mourning and grief. Believe in the good news of the Gospel of Jesus.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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