God Did Not Make Death
By Father Pete Iorio
One of the most profound, spiritual, meaningful, religious, loving, mystical and catholic (with a small c) events of my life happened one year ago on June 27 when my mother passed from this life. This parish community was truly amazing and its outreach to me and in support of my family. For those of you who were not here, my mother’s death was not expected. She suffered a stroke and died four days later at the Johnson City Medical Center. I would like to share with you the words of remembrance of my brother Bill who described the passing. He spoke at the vigil prayer service.
My mother passed on Tuesday night at sunset surrounded by her three sons and daughter. Also present at her bedside was my father and a steady stream of her wonderful friends. As my mother was dying, a man of African origin named Donald, whom I had never met, said a prayer, then he left to bring his wife by my mother’s bedside. We gathered around my dying mother holding hands and this woman whom I’d never seen began to pray. I don’t remember the words, but I remember the rhythm and beautiful tone of her voice- almost chanting. My mother then passed, releasing a single tear in the left corner of her eye. The sun was setting. I realized that I had just witnessed pure grace-the circle of life complete. My wife, Colleen, just found an excerpt that my mother had lying on her desk at home. It reads:
To accept death is to accept God.
Death is resurrection.
The dying process is the culmination or peak of the whole development of the spiritual journey in which the total surrender into God involves the gift of life itself.
Death is not the end of anything but the final completion of this process and the triumph of the grace of God.
In our first reading today, the book of Wisdom contains a very significant and yet puzzling statement. “God did not make death” We may question this since God made everything on this earth, and we also know that all living beings die/disintegrate and cease to exist. It’s natural. So, how can God not have made death?
What could it mean to say? Wisdom goes on… For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world. Death is not simply the dissolution of the or as many people to to regard death as the end or at least as something mysterious. And what is unknown has a tendency to terrify us.
Sinners are alienated from God, the source of life and so we sinners are unable to fully trust and this is what leads to a terrible fear of death. This is the kind of death that God did not make. What the author of the book of Wisdom means is God did not make the full psychological, spiritual, physical experience of death that is conditioned by sin. This horrifying terrible death that is nihilistic, devoid of God or religious meaning, is the death that God did not create.
Now let us look at our Gospel from Mark. We have the healing of the woman who had a hemorrhage for 12 years sandwiched between the story of the waking up of the daughter of Jairus. What jumps out at me in the story is a line that usually always jumps out at me because Jesus says it so often.
Do not be afraid. I repeat: do not be afraid. Just have faith. As my mother would say often, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” In other words she was saying the same thing as Jesus: do not be afraid. Just have faith. And before Jesus performs the miracle, he confronted those who ridiculed him for saying that she is not dead, but she is asleep. Those who ridiculed him are people who viewed death as the end and see it only through their sin and the lack of faith being filled with fear. So what does Jesus do? Having disregarded the message that she was dead, he merely took her hand and invited her to get up. Little girl, arise. Talitha Koum in Aramaic.
The attitude that God wanted for us to have from the beginning is to not be afraid, to have faith. It is that sin that separated us and made us fearful. This hearkens back to Adam and Eve.
What this story teaches us is that God sees our passing from this life into the next as a trustful falling asleep. The death that God did not make and that God does not want is this horrible death resulting from a lack of trust. How often throughout the Bible we find this instruction to have faith and to trusts and to not be afraid. Trust turns the terror of death into a falling asleep. This is the perspective of how God sees death, as a dormition.
And I will end with this by adding: One of the most popular and emotional Catholic hymns in English in this country is Be Not Afraid. This is the message that Jesus wants us to not only believe but have resounding in our souls. I invite you to sing with me. Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me. And I will give you rest.