We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
In the Catholic Church, the month of November is set aside as a time to pray in a special way for the souls of our dearly departed. Beginning the month with the Solemnity of All Saints followed by the Commemoration of All Souls, we are all called to take some time to think of our heavenly homeland. While most cultures have several rituals around death, how they handle it, how they honor the dead, how they remember death throughout their lives, in American culture it is still fairly taboo. In our modern culture we emphasize self-reliance, self-realization, and self-fulfillment. Remembering that we are mortal and that our lives are passing away flies in the face of our delusions of self-empowerment. Death is perceived as an unaccountable loss, a tragedy, and even a surprise. Our cultural refusal to look at death or think of it as our inevitable end, cuts us off from some of the beautiful realities of this life. Grief over the passing of a loved one is natural and right and a sign of love for the departed.
St. Paul eloquently addresses many modern issues of the self in his writings to the Romans. All humans, whether they actively realize it or not, are perpetually asking the question: "what is my purpose in life?" Death is frightening to us in the sense that it threatens to cut us short of fulfilling our purpose, whatever we suppose it may be. But as Christians, as people who trust in God, St. Paul reminds us that our purpose is not a "what" but a "who." God is our purpose in life. Coming to know him, following him, becoming more like him is our ultimate purpose in life. This should give us a great amount of comfort. We will never do those things perfectly in this life, but God knows how much we are trying. He knows when we struggle, he knows when we fall down, and he knows how much we want to please him. The fact that we have given ourselves and our whole lives to him is what matters most. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are God's. When we remember that God is our purpose, we can rest assured that God is with us on the way.
Our psalmist sings a song of consolation and joy at this realization. God is the purpose of the psalmist, therefore there is no fear. There is no fear of death because God is our salvation. There is no fear of what may come in this life because God is our strength. There is no fear of how this life may wind up because the psalmist only desires to look on God. With God as our purpose, we can look toward the heavenly homeland, not fearing what we may lose in this life through death, but looking towards what we will gain through eternal life in the Lord.
Finally, Jesus assures us in the Gospel that we are his purpose. He is love itself, and he created us for him to love us and for us to love him. He seeks us, he pursues us, and he rejoices when we come to him. He is not angry with the sheep who get lost. But he wants more than anything to bring us back to the fold. This life is full of us wandering away, being found, being reunited with the other sheep, and often wandering away again. What we are called to do is to remember that God is our purpose, and that we are his purpose, and then give him time every day to find us.
We are not yet in that heavenly homeland, so this life is going to challenge us. It is common to get a little lost along the way and wonder what we do it all for and who we are in the scheme of things. What we must remember at all times is that we will never uncover our purpose or our identity if we do not understand that they are inseparable from God. Then we know our identity is his beloved child. Then we know our purpose is to be more fully united with God. Then we do not have to fear the end of this life, but look forward to a greater realization of these realities and a greater fulfillment of our calling as God's children, totally united with him forever.
As we continue this month of November, let us pray for our dearly departed that they will know the everlasting love of God and eternal life in him. But let us also ask the saints and all those who have gone before us to pray for us for the journey. May we all one day be reunited in the love of God, which is a love more powerful than death.