Three days ago I drove down to Stanford Medical Center to keep watch at another Calvary. Evelyn Ereso, a dear friend who had argued valiantly with cancer for ten years, was dying. Her devoted husband, their three children and assorted grandchildren, extended family, and close friends kept watch with him. I anointed her, gave the final absolution, and each of the family then traced a cross on her forehead. She died three hours later.
Today her husband called me, asking to do the funeral Mass next week. His contact came up on my phone as “Virgil and Evelyn Ereso.” We talked a little and hung up. I slowly pulled up their contact on the device and quietly erased “Evelyn” from the phone’s memory. I went back to “recent calls” and watched as for one last instant “Virgil and Evelyn” came up; then Evelyn’s name silently disappeared from the screen.
Let us not pretend that death is just a “passing away.” Yes, we Christians know death is a passing from this world to the next, but for those left behind, death is final in this life. Virgil will never see his wife again this side of the grave. He too will have to eliminate her name from his contact lists, lest death mock him. He will never be able to call Evelyn on his cellphone again. She is gone.
The Catholic Church takes death seriously, and for that reason provides serious medicine for our mortality. She provides the Word of Life and the Sacraments. We cannot pretend death is not the absolute worst thing about life. But rather than making light of it, or hiding from it, we enter fully into it, as did our Lord. Entering fully into death, with Him, is our only hope to get through it. And we will get through it. As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 1968, "Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness ... in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he."
Make sure you pray for the dead today, and if possible, attend Mass for them.
May Evelyn's soul, and the souls of all of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.