FRIDAY THOUGHT with Fr Chris Ferguson : It’s only human to grieve

I have never been one for visiting cemeteries. I never felt the need to have to stand physically at a loved one’s grave to pray for them.

Friday, 20th August 2021, 1:00 pm

In recent weeks I have attended the City Cemetery on a more regular basis to visit my mother’s grave. Although I think the section she is buried in is wasted on her. My mother is down in the very bottom section overlooking the Brandywell pitch. This is all well and good, but my mother was from Strabane, so she wasn’t interested in football.

What I have noticed is how particular areas of the graveyard form their own support groups. Depending on the time of day or week, you encounter familiar faces. Often family members have created their own particular routines and rituals. I have witnessed people carrying from the boot of their car half of Home Bargains or the Range, comprising an assortment of cleaning products and gardening tools. On a number of occasions, I have marvelled at the sight of old-style manual lawnmowers.

As a consequence, I could be falling into the temptation of keeping up with the Joneses. I have discovered it’s only in the light of a personal brush with death that you develop a new perspective. Suddenly I see myself, noticing headstones and their inscriptions in a new light. I was talking to a friend who is also a priest and he recalled a conversation after the burial of his father. As he was contemplating his father’s resting place one of his brothers made a reassuring comment: “You’ll probably be buried in there too.”

As I was standing by my mother’s grave, I was suddenly confronted by a similar thought and I began to better appreciate the immediate surroundings of that section of the City Cemetery. I was wondering before I die could I put in an objection against the main stand in the Brandywell, which would after all be blocking my view of the full pitch. Yet, this is the nature of graveyards, the places where our loved ones are laid to rest, to confront us with the fragility of life, and reality of our own death too.

Pope Emeritus Benedict, writing about the Feast of all Souls, reflected on the Christian understanding of death. It is only human to mourn, to cry, to grieve. These feelings and emotions stem from the love we have shared and remind us of the relationship we had with the person who has died. 
We cannot shy away from these emotions; we have to allow them to surface before we can find healing and peace. I suggest you ignore the false prophets, who would belittle our grief, and be reluctant to take council from the people who pass over the silence of Holy Saturday and rush towards the Glory of Easter Sunday. Nor should we linger in our grief, like people without hope, but this journey towards hope takes time.

Being honest about the reality of the death of loved one, we must also allow ourselves to be touched by the hope of being reunited again in communion of life that exist within The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.

During the Feast of the Assumption, we highlight two important realities of faith. Firstly, we recognise that where Mary has gone before us, as the first of the redeemed, we hope to follow. Secondly, in commemorating how Mary was assumed body and soul into the life of God, we come to understand the importance of our own bodies.

Too many believe when we die, its only our souls, which encounter God.

Yet, central to our faith is the mystery of the Resurrection.

What Jesus introduces into the life of God, is a resurrected humanity. Similarly, our bodies will be resurrected and transformed into the likeness of Christ. It’s in our likeness to Christ, which makes possible our entry into the life of God. If God the Father, can recognise in us the face of his Son, we will enjoy life within the community of God. Our cemeteries teach us to honour the bodies of our loved ones, for as persons we only exist as unity of body and soul. So, we are still on our journey towards God, until the final resurrection of the dead.