“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so; For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death…. One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.” So wrote the 17th century poet John Donne about the freedom from the seemingly unsurpassable power of death and the promise of new life, eternal life at the core of our Easter celebrations.
A decade ago, while leading an RCIA session on “Last Things,” which included death and resurrection, a young woman named Camille asked a question. Camille was severely burdened by cerebral palsy, spent her days in a motorized wheel chair, and was only able to communicate via a computer and synthesized voice. She operated the voice system via a “pointer” that was reminiscent of a miner’s lamp. She pointed the laser at the special screen and laboriously typed out her thoughts letter by letter. When she hit “go” out came this eerie metal-ghost voice. In the midst of our class, we were all caught by surprise when we heard, “When I die, will I get a new body in heaven. Will I be whole?” Camille would have well understood Dunne’s Holy Sonnet 10. Because of her faith, neither death nor this life held power over her. In a unique way, she hoped in the promise and wholeness of the Resurrection.
Two weeks ago when I wrote about the movie “Risen,” I penned: “And Hope does things. Hope creates faith in a better future and therefore leads one to act, to actually do something to bring about that better future. Without hope it’s incredibly difficult to press ahead, to face the challenges of the day, to do anything but merely get by. With hope you can risk extraordinary things, do extraordinary things because the future is not only open but also promised. Hope is not optimism, for while optimism involves the expectation that things are eventually going to get better, hope asserts that no matter what may come, no matter how bad things may get, God’s word and promise will prevail. Hope is located beyond our immediate circumstances.” Camille deeply understood the hope of Resurrection.
So do the children of dying parents. Two weeks ago I had also just visited my mom, Joyce, over in the Orlando area. So many of you ask about her; your thoughts and prayers are much appreciated. Mom suffers from lewy body dementia and is beginning to fail. To be honest, I was taken aback by how far she had declined in just a few weeks. She recognized me and seemed glad to see me, but she mostly slept while I was there. She doesn’t speak much; you have to guess what she is trying to say. Occasionally, she mysteriously gazes at her own outstretched hands. What can one do, but wait in Hope?
At her bedside, I prayed, remembered better days, and wondered what lay ahead. While alone with my thoughts, the words of the Eucharistic Prayer II came to mind: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection.” Maybe that’s where mom is these days, at the start of John Donne’s “one short sleep past.” Maybe she will awake, or maybe she will wake eternally.
On this Easter, let us give praise and glory for what God has promised and made visible in the Resurrection of Jesus. Let us be humbled by people like Camille who lives life writ large in the hope of Christ. Let us pray for all those, like my mom, who linger in the gloaming of this earthly life, may they awake as God wills. And we who remain, may we risk extraordinary things because of the future opened and promised in Hope.
He is risen. Alleluia, Alleluia!! Let us live in that Hope. For in the great by-and-by, we live knowing that, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.” All things will be made whole, all will be reunited – and it begins today.
Note: Shortly after writing this article, Fr. George’s mom passed away on March 14, 2016. May she and all the faithful departed rest in the Mercy of God.