Haunting and Hopeful

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All Souls Day

Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 6:3-9; John 11:17-27

It was an image that will haunt me for a long time: on a cold and blustery late October day, a sobbing mother stood in a cemetery clinging to the casket of her 21 year-old son as it was about to be lowered into the ground.  Her head, hands and arms prostrate, she cried out over and over again, Mi hijo!  Mi hijo! (“My son! My son!”) 

The young man, a husband and father, had died a violent death on the streets of Chicago.  His small pickup truck had been deliberately rammed by a larger one and pushed two blocks before it struck a tree.  He died at the hospital of his injuries.  Police are investigating the incident as a homicide.

As his mother held on to his casket, the funeral director invited the pall bearers to lay their gloves on the handles.  One by one they did so, and one by one they laid a hand on his casket.  Soon other family members and friends did the same.  Another son and I had each placed a hand on his mother’s shoulders and placed the other on the casket. 

Just over my left shoulder, I heard the voice of a small child.  It was the young man’s 15-month-old son.  He, too, was reaching for his dad’s casket.  While he may not have completely understood what was going on, he wanted to do what everyone else was doing.  So I picked him up and let him place both of his hands on the casket; and we all stood there.

Those little hands on that cold metal casket, next to his grandmother’s, are certainly a symbol of tragedy.  Yet they are also a symbol of hope, even of the Paschal Mystery.  Even in the face of a tragic and seemingly senseless death, life and promise are never far away.  But sometimes we need to lift them up in order to notice.  Faith and trust in God’s mercy can give us the strength.—JC