Women and men who belong to the Order of Preachers have a great love and respect for the dead. For eight centuries, Dominicans have had customs and practices that turn their prayers to those who have died. For example, on every anniversary of a Sister’s or Brother’s death, we remember them in prayer by name. Dominican women pray suffrages for the members of their community for eight days after their death. All Dominican men of a province celebrate a Mass for their brother when he dies. Dominicans celebrate the Feast of All Saints Of the Order of Preachers on November 7 and we celebrate the Anniversary of Deceased Sisters and Brothers of the Order on November 8.
Our great love and respect for the dead is part of our Dominican spirituality that we offer to the bigger world. Our Dominican brother, Thomas Aquinas, writes that we Christians are bound together not simply by faith, but also by the grace-given virtue of love. In death, our bond of love is not broken, life is changed, not ended. It is changed in that those who have died have entrusted to us what they themselves received, cared for, and enriched. This encourages me to look at the power of death and the power of love during this Memorial Day weekend.
Death is a universal power. It has an effect on everyone. Smart or foolish, rich or poor, young or old death takes all of us by the hand. I think it is interesting how parents often try to protect their children from the universal power of death. When I was four, my grandfather died. I still remember my parents taking me and my younger brother to a babysitter rather than to his funeral. For some reason, I suppose, my parents did not know that the universal power of death would still touch my life especially with grandpa was no longer there to hug me, to let me hold and listen to his railroad pocket watch, and on occasion for him to slip a piece of his favorite Black-Jack gum into the pocket of my overhauls.
Death is an indestructible power. It can never be overcome in this world. For centuries, people have looked for the fountain of youth. There are stories about the Greek Alexander the Great, the Muslim Al-Kidhr, and the Christian, Ponce de Leon all looking for the fountain of youth so that death could be conquered. People can go to the best doctors, to the best hospitals, to seek the best treatments but there comes a time when we have to say our time on earth has come to an end.
Death is a mysterious power. It strikes when we least expect it. I have stood in hospital rooms with families when doctors have told them that death was just around the corner for a family member. But thankfully the sick family member recovered and was sent home. I have also been with families whose loved ones have been taken suddenly by death leaving everyone confused and angry. So how do we deal with this universal, this indestructible, this mysterious power we know as death? I think we are called to understand death as Jesus understood death through the power of love.
Death is universal but so is love. There is not a person who does not need to be loved and who does not need to love someone else. Jesus wept when he heard about the death of Lazarus. Jairus, a synagogue official who would have nothing to do with Jesus, searched him out when his daughter was dying. The sorrow of the widow Nain for her son stopped Jesus from passing her bye. And it was God’s love for us that brought about the resurrection of Jesus and the destruction of death.
Death is powerful but love is more powerful. We have the technology to destroy cities, countries, and the entire earth but we cannot destroy love. Love is constantly overcoming hatred, animosity, and despair. It is love that suddenly and powerfully directs and guides people at times of war and at times of peace. In the medieval world, it was believed that love actually set the universe in motion. And in 1958 Perry Como put this belief to music when he sang, “love makes the world go round, love makes the world go round!”
Death is mysterious but love is so much more mysterious. Somehow and somewhere love appears when it is most needed. We share a simple meal of soup and bread. Human organs are donated by unknown individuals or their families. Adult children care for their parents who once cared for them. People, like Jesus and the saints, share and give their lives as examples of love for us all and a promise of eternal life.
We gather on Memorial Day not to recognize the universal, the great, and the mysterious power we know as death but to celebrate the power of God’s love over death. As St. Paul writes, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We gather here today because the love between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is the same love between God and us. It is the same love between us and the ones we love who have died. It is this powerful love that conquers death and brings us to remember and to pray for those who have died not just on Memorial Day but on every day.
Fr. Bob Kelly