Every time we are faced with the death of a loved one or of someone we knew well, the question arises: ‘What will become of his life, his work, his service to the Church?’ The Book of Wisdom tells us that they are in God’s hands!
Our sins are also in God’s hands, those merciful hands with their ‘wounds’ of love. It is not by chance that Jesus wanted to preserve the wounds on his hands to make us feel his mercy.
—Pope Francis, homily today in St. Peter’s Basilica, at a Mass in memory of all the cardinals and bishops who died during the past year
Pope Francis, in a brief but moving homily today, said that “not even the powers of hell” can separate us from God’s love.
He was celebrating an annual Mass in memory of all the cardinals, archbishops and bishops in the Church who have died during the past year. The most striking expression in today’s homily, which included, once again, a striking reflection on sin, was in reference to “God’s hands.” Those who pass away in this world go into “the hands” of God, the Pope said.
The hand is a sign
“The hand is a sign of welcome and protection, it is the sign of a personal relationship of respect and loyalty: to offer one’s hand, to shake hands,” the Pope said. “These zealous pastors who have dedicated their lives to the service of God and to their brothers are in the hands of God.”
But the Pope did not leave this image there. Rather, he made it richer and more profound — and, finally, even more hopeful.
He did so by referring once again, as he has so often in these months, to human sin — to the one thing that can separate us from God — and how even the consequences of that sin (that is, ultimately, death; for only what is holy, that is, unmarred by sin, or what has been sanctified, that is, made holy despite sin, can live eternally), can be overcome through God’s love and forgiveness.
“Our sins are also in God’s hands, those merciful hands with their ‘wounds’ of love,” the Pope said. “It is not by chance that Jesus wanted to preserve the wounds on his hands to make us feel his mercy,” he continued. “This is our strength and our hope.”
By emphasizing once again the mysterious fact that Jesus preserved the wounds of the nails in his hands even after his resurrection (so strikingly narrated in the story of doubting Thomas, who placed his finger in the wounds of the risen Christ), Francis makes clear that his vision of reality is rooted in the “fact” of Christ’s resurrection.
“This reality, which is full of hope, is the prospect of final resurrection, of eternal life, to which the ‘righteous,’ those who accept the Word of God and are obedient to His Spirit, are destined,” Francis said.
The Pope’s homily is brief. But it is touching. All of us have loved ones who have gone before us. All of us stand likewise before that final passage. We are all mortal.
In his words today, Francis offers us a vision of hope, one that can perhaps be consoling to us, in times when darkness and death may seem to prevail. In that sense, this sermon may be one worth keeping, and re-reading from time to time.
On a personal note, I recall today the life and witness of Archbishop Peter Prabhu, of Chennai, India. He was a career Vatican nuncio who spent the final years of his life living in the Domus Santa Marta (just down the hall from where the Pope is now living). Prabhu was a wise and kind man. He often walked with our pilgrims in the Vatican Gardens, even as his feet grew swollen and his breath shorter. He died on September 10 at the age of 82. May eternal light shine upon him.
The Text of the Pope’s Homily
Homily at Memorial Mass for Deceased Cardinals and Bishops of the Past Year, November 4, 2013, St. Peter’s Basilica
In the spiritual atmosphere of the month of November which is marked by the memory of the faithful departed, we remember our brother Cardinals and Bishops from around the world who have returned to the Father’s house during the past year. While we offer for each of them this Holy Eucharist, let us ask the Lord to grant them the heavenly reward promised to good and faithful servants.
We listened to the words of St. Paul: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 ).
The Apostle speaks of the love of God as the deepest, most invincible motive for our trust in Christian hope.
He lists the opposing and mysterious forces that can threaten the path of faith.
But he states with confidence that even if our entire existence is surrounded by threats, nothing will ever separate us from the love that Christ himself gained for us, giving of himself completely.
Even evil powers that are hostile to man are powerless in the face to the intimate union of love between Jesus and those who welcome him with faith.
This reality of faithful love that God has for each of us helps us to face our daily life, which is sometimes slow and tiring, with serenity and strength.
Only the sin of man can break this bond, but even in this case God will always go in search for him to restore that union that lasts even after death, it is indeed a union that in the final encounter with the Father reaches its climax.
This certainty gives a new and full meaning to earthly life and opens us to hope for life beyond death.
In fact, every time we are faced with the death of a loved one or of someone we knew well, the question arises: “What will become of his life, his work, his service to the Church?” The Book of Wisdom tells us that they are in God’s hands!
The hand is a sign of welcome and protection, it is the sign of a personal relationship of respect and loyalty: to offer one’s hand, to shake hands.
These zealous pastors who have dedicated their lives to the service of God and to their brothers are in the hands of God.
They are well looked after and they will not be corroded by death.
All their days interwoven with joys and sufferings, hopes and labors, fidelity to the Gospel and passion for the spiritual and material salvation of their flocks, are in the hands of God.
Our sins are also in God’s hands, those merciful hands with their “wounds” of love. It is not by chance that Jesus wanted to preserve the wounds on his hands to make us feel his mercy. This is our strength and our hope!
This reality, which is full of hope, is the prospect of final resurrection, of eternal life, to which the “righteous”, those who accept the Word of God and are obedient to His Spirit are destined.
This is how we want to remember our brother Cardinals and Bishops who are deceased. Men who were devoted to their vocations and to their service to the Church, which they loved as one loves a bride. In prayer, we entrust them to the mercy of the Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady and of St. Joseph, so they be welcomed into his kingdom of light and peace, where the just and those who have been faithful witnesses to the Gospel live eternally.
And let us also pray that the Lord may prepare us for this encounter. We do not know the date, but that encounter will take place!