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When facing death, fear is useless, what is needed is trust

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Catholic Hospice memorial Mass

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during the Catholic Hospice memorial Mass celebrated June 17, 2017 at St. Mary Cathedral.

Ofrecemos esta Misa por el eterno descanso de sus seres queridos y por la consolación de sus familias que siguen en esta peregrinación por este valle de lágrimas.

This Mass is offered for the repose of the souls of all those of your families who have gone home to the Lord —  marked with the sign of faith. We pray for them, asking the Lord to bring them to the fullness of Eternal Life — and we pray for you that the Lord will comfort you in your grief.

Como católicos, vemos la muerte no como el fin de nuestras vidas sino más bien como una puerta que abre el camino para nosotros hacia la vida eterna. Sin embargo, morir no es fácil — por eso rezamos para obtener la gracia de morir bien. "Jesús, José, María, les doy el corazón y el alma mía; Jesús, José, María, asístanme en mi última agonía; Jesús, José, María, reciban, cuando muera, el alma mía". 

La Palabra de Dios — que es Palabra de vida y esperanza — nos conforta profundamente ante el misterio de la muerte, de modo especial cuando afecta a las personas que más queremos. Como decimos en el prefacio de la Misa de los difuntos: “…aunque la certeza de morir nos entristece, nos consuela la promesa de la futura inmortalidad. Para quienes creemos en ti, Señor, la vida se transforma, no se acaba; y disuelta nuestra morada terrenal, se nos prepara una mansión eterna en el cielo.” 

In Catholic teaching, death is not the end of human life but a door into Eternal Life. Our funeral liturgy proclaims: “Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.”  

That being said, our dying — or the dying of our loved ones — is not an easy experience. Traditional piety has taught us to invoke St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus and husband of Mary, as the patron saint of a “happy death.” For years, many ended their day by praying: “From a sudden and improvident death, deliver us, O Lord.”

We do well to pray that death may not find us unprepared to face God. However, today advances in medical science pose the challenge of coping with a terminal illness which may last months or even years. Today, more than a sudden death, many people fear the prospects of a prolonged and debilitating illness that may bring much pain and suffering and at the same time possibly burden their loved ones. Jesus said: “Fear is useless what is needed is trust.”  (Mark 5: 36).  

And this is why people trust hospice care as a life-affirming alternative to those who, in denying the inevitability of death insist on futile treatment, as well as to those who would shorten the lives of the ill in the name of a false sense of mercy. Providing palliative or supportive care for the terminally ill, hospice care emphasizes the management of pain and discomfort as well as giving emotional support to both the patient and his or her family. Hospice care offers both to the patient and his or her family true compassion — sharing in another’s pain and seeking to mitigate or alleviate it when possible.

Saint John Paul II, who gave us his own extraordinary witness of faith during his last illness, wrote: "The Church knows that the moment of death is always accompanied by particularly intense human sentiments: an earthy life is ending, the emotional, generational, and social ties that are part of the person's inner self are dissolving; people who are dying and those who assist them are aware of the conflict between hope in immortality and the unknown which troubles even the most enlightened minds. The Church lifts her voice so that the dying are not offended but are given every loving care and are not left alone as they prepare to cross the threshold of time to enter eternity.” 

Ahora sí, el Señor les ha dado reposo en la casa del Padre celestial. Nuestros seres queridos difuntos, finalmente liberados de las amarguras de esta vida, están en la compañía de los santos.  

La fe en Jesucristo nos da una familia — somos hermanos de Cristo y su Padre es nuestro Padre, y su madre es nuestra madre. El Corazón de Jesús es de verdad una hoguera del Divino amor que esparce sus ardores en todas las direcciones: en el cielo en la Iglesia triunfante, en la tierra en la militante y en el purgatorio en la sufriente. Así, en el símbolo de la fe, o sea el Credo, afirmamos que creemos en la comunión de los Santos — esa comunión es esa red de relaciones a la cual entramos por el bautismo en la vida misma de Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espíritu Santo. Y esa comunión es más fuerte que la muerte.  

We believe in God — and we believe that God made us not just to die one day. Our faith in Jesus Christ crucified yet risen from the dead gives us light and our hope in him who conquered death consoles us and strengthens us in our grief — but nevertheless we weep; like Jesus wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus, we weep. We grieve and we must do so — for grieving is the pain of letting go. 

On an old Irish headstone were written these words: Death leaves a heartache that no one can heal but love leaves a memory no one can steal. 

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; may their souls and the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

Dales Señor el descanso eterno; Brille para ellos la luz perpetua; Que descansen en Paz. Amen.

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