Most of us are not rich enough (or I might add, foolish enough) to have our cadavers flash frozen. Still we long for lasting bliss. I remember a conversation with a bright young woman. I asked her about her dreams. She said what she was most looking forward to was retiring! For sure, she was not thinking about retirement as the elderly experience it: a few years of increasing physical ailments and loneliness. Rather she was imagining a state of ongoing rest and satisfaction, a perpetual Caribbean cruise. What she longed for was not retirement, but heaven. So do we all.
In the last century Nazis and Communists played on that longing. They promised their followers a paradise on earth: the Thousand Year Reich or the classless society. However, what they delivered was not heaven, but the worst hells human beings have known. Capitalism is more modest; still it holds out the hope of earthly paradise. Every ad plays on that desire.
Our forefathers were more realistic. St. Ambrose, for example, spoke about our existence as a "burden of wretchedness." Because of sin, we are condemned to a life of "unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow." Yet the brief joys we experience are not without significance. Our unquenchable longing is not the cruel joke of an idiotic universe. Ambrose of Milan recognized that we feel a deep loneliness because we are meant for a lasting communion.
That is precisely what we celebrate today and tomorrow. Again, to cite Ambrose: "The soul has to turn away from the aimless paths of this life...it must reach out to those assemblies in heaven." If we picture heaven at all, it usually is as a reunion with loved ones. I admit a deep desire to see again my mom and dad, Fr. Mike Holland and others. I also think about meeting someone like C.S. Lewis to thank him. But those thoughts, beautiful as they are, are mere concessions to an earthbound imagination.
Ambrose had a more expansive view. He concluded his reflection on his brother Satyrus' death by quoting the words of David:
His Sermon on All Saints by St. Bede the Venerable
For iPod users, here is the MP3 version of St. Bede's All Saints Day Homily
All Soul's Day Homily: Sister Death
Report on Earthquake Relief to Sacuaya
Bulletin (Excommunicating Pro-Abortion Politicians, Archbishop's Respect Life Statement)
From Archives (2008 All Souls Day homily): Baptized Into His Death
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Darwin's Dangerous Idea (reflection on PBS' Evolution Program)
Bob's Christian Tattoos
Cardinal Arinze on Liturgy