Today we can too easily lose sight of this perspective of eternity, failing to see what we have time for. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses so clearly: “Death puts an end to human life as the time open either to accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ” (CCC 1021). Blessed John Paul II observed at the beginning of this Millennium that the “people of our time have become insensitive to the Last Things” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope). Awareness of those Last Things has in the past stirred consciences and brought many to repentance and to the confession of their sins. And this is the urgency to which Lent and Easter now recalls us with the poignant mark of ashes. As that wise book The Imitation of Christ notes: “If you aren’t fit to face death today it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow...” (Book 1:23). For “remembering our mortality,” the Catechism tells us, “helps us realise that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfilment” (CCC 1007). Being aware of this limited time on earth and all that is to follow - our judgement, our purgatory, heaven or hell forever – becomes an urgent invitation to conversion in our lives.
At funerals today “a celebration of life” can often mean only looking back to a life now past rather than looking forwards to the “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. The faith which allowed St Therese of Lisieux to say on her death-bed, “I am not dying; I am entering into life” (Last Conversations). The Church always prays as she believes and so it is not because we disapprove of the lyrics of Frank Sinatra or the chants of the football terraces that we insist that secular songs find no place in the prayer of the Christian Funeral. It is that the Church prays only as she believes. We treasure the memories of our loved ones but we also know where their hope and our own is placed. “Christ Himself … died for our sins,” St Peter tells us on this Sunday, “died for the guilty, to lead us to God” (I Peter 3:18). It is our faith which makes us realise that the faithful departed do not need our praises but they very much need our prayers. As the Catechism explains, each one of us at the moment of death, will, in our immortal souls, come to a “particular judgement” leading “to the blessedness of heaven” either “through a purification,” that is purgatory, “or immediately.” There is also a terrible reality of which the Gospel repeatedly speaks: “immediate and everlasting damnation” (CCC 1022). For “to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love,” the Catechism explains, “means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice” (CCC 1033). Yes, this is the real and everlasting choice of our lives.
May this time of grace lead us toward the eternal Easter.
Bishop of Shrewsbury