Remembrance of Beyon Perera

Homily of a Mass of Remembrance on the Third Sunday of the Year

I would like to begin by thanking Sharmi and her family for the privilege of offering this Mass for the repose of the soul of Beyon and for the comfort of his family and friends. I have known Sharmi, Tanja and Sonia for most of my life and I thank them for this opportunity.

Many of those who are not Christians, many who have no faith in Jesus Christ, his death and Resurrection, have little or nothing substantial to say about the subject of death. Most secular funerals in England today are simply remembrance services: the person’s life is recalled briefly before memories fade and the tides of time erode these recollections into the dust. At best, secular funeral stones in graveyards say, “Sacred to the Memory of …whoever,” as if all we have are memories. The Christian attitude towards death is very different, because we have hope. Christianity was founded by Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ, having endured the agonies of Calvary, has risen from the tomb. If you go to Jerusalem today, it is possible to visit the tomb of Christ, but the tomb is empty. As St Peter says, “We ate and drank with him after his Resurrection” (Acts 10:41). And the fact that Christ has broken the chains of death also offers hope to those who are united with him, on the far side of suffering. The Old Testament Book Wisdom describes the just souls who endured torment in this world, “Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he proved them … the Lord shall be their king forever” (Wis 3:5-8). The New Testament gives us a glimpse, within the limitations of language, of the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth … (and) the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:1-2). And in the Gospel, Jesus gives a whole series of promises for those who suffer with him and show mercy in this world, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted … blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:3-4). That is why most Christian, and especially Catholic gravestones do not say, “Sacred to the Memory of,” but “R.I.P., Requiescat in Pacem … Rest in Peace.” That is why, amid the grief of Beyon’s death, I was comforted to learn that Fr John Troy was able to reach the hospital and give Beyon the Sacrament of Anointing just a few minutes before his soul encountered the merciful judgment of God. The Sacrament of Anointing forgives a person’s sins and prepares a soul to encounter God in a state of grace and in friendship: to encounter our merciful Lord rather than merely a perfect and just judge. I pray that we too shall receive a similar blessing as we approach our own deaths one day.

Nevertheless, although Christians have hope, this hope does not mean that we lack grief. If we love someone, we grieve: indeed we suffer agony when that person is taken away for all time, if not for eternity, for time, of course, will come to an end. For me, one of the strangest events in the whole of the Bible is that Jesus weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he is about to raise Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:33-38). It is right and good to grieve: these tears can express, not a bitter grief, but a holy grief that purifies the soul.

I would also, however, like to suggest two practical steps. First, the words 'Requiescat in Pacem', 'Rest in Peace', are a prayer. One of the great mercies of God is that those who die in friendship with God but not yet fully prepared to be in heaven are still, nevertheless members of the Church, part of the Body of Christ. We can pray and offer sacrifices for these souls in purgatory, that they will soon complete their final purification and be in the company of the saints forever. So it would be a work of mercy to pray to regularly for Beyon, a standard prayer being as follows, “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace.” The second practical lesson is this. Beyon’s death can be a reminder to us, and, in particular, to young people gathered here today, that this world is not our final home. The saddest thing for me, as a priest, is the way in which people live this life as if they are going to live here forever, with no thought of death and eternity. To compare time to eternity is like comparing the point of a needle to the expanse of the ocean. Yet this point of the needle, this short earthly life, is where we write the title page of what we are to be in eternity, as C.S. Lewis used to say. And as the days and years tick by, God is, in a sense, constantly asking us one question, “What do you really want from me?” And if our effective answer is, by our word and deed, is “I don’t want you, God,” then, in grief, He will even respect that choice as well, a choice that is incompatible with happiness. So I urge you to encounter Christ in the Scriptures, ask for the Gift of Faith, repent of sin, grow in prayer, make use the sacraments, perform works of mercy, in order to be fruitful in this life and to be united with Beyon in the Kingdom of Heaven forever. Finally, may the prayers of Mary, who stood at the foot of Christ’s cross assist Beyon and ourselves, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

 

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