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Comforting light or silent darkness

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, November 2, 2006

What happens when people die? Are the accounts of near-death experiences where the person moves toward a brilliant white light with a deep sense of peace accurate? Or is the story published last year about a man who “died” on an operating table and reportedly spent a number of minutes surrounded by darkness with “no encounter with God” what occurs?

Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of All Saints, where the Church rejoices with countless men and women who live in the presence of God, and see God “face to face.”

Today, it might seem like we remember everyone else – All Souls. Are these the people who are not saints like Mary, the apostles and martyrs and those who are “canonized,” mostly popes, bishops, priests and nuns?

As Catholics, we believe that our baptism in the name of our Trinitarian God unites us intimately and forever to Jesus Christ. And by uniting ourselves to Jesus through the saving mysteries of His passion and death, we also will share in His resurrection when all human history is brought together in God’s redeeming love in Jesus.

At funeral liturgies, we acknowledge death as a mystery that is hard to fully comprehend. But we also express our belief that “for faithful believers, life is changed, not ended.” The promise Jesus Christ holds out to us is that the moment of death marks our passage from this life to everlasting life.

And so we live by faith in the face of the loss of a loved one. We trust in God’s love for us. And we place our lives and our futures confidently into His hands.

I have often been taken by the many intentions Notre Dame undergraduates give voice to in the residence hall Masses every Sunday afternoon or night. Sometimes the occasions remembered are happy ones. But as often as not, people pray for loved ones or friends who are sick or who have died. I have made it a habit to remember all of these intentions at Mass during the week.

As we celebrate these two feasts, we are confident that millions of faithful people who have gone before us live in God’s presence. Some of them, whose lives were characterized by virtue beyond the norm, are canonized.

But many others, especially ordinary people, share their lot.

Father Richard V. Warner, CSC, is the director of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at rwarner@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.