Yesterday I attended a funeral for a good man, Mike Bowden. He was a much-loved husband, father and grandfather. He was a famous Victorian footballer as are a number of his sons.
He worked as a teacher in Central Australia for many years and received his doctorate on the Cosmic Christ and Aboriginal Spirituality in the last few months. Mike had many Aboriginal friends. Although we were restricted to 10 people being able to be present at the funeral (he has a large family), it was nonetheless a great celebration within the Requiem Mass.
Celebrating a funeral so close to Easter, within the Easier Octave, had a certain specialness about it.
I have attended a great number of funerals over the 43 years that I have been ordained. I often find myself reflecting during them as I connect with the grief of those who loved the dead person. I am also of course getting in touch with my own grief for people I love who have gone before us.
I often ponder about what the person would be experiencing now that they have died. The analogy that I sometimes find helpful is the analogy of birth (of course, any analogy is limited). The baby spends about 9 months in the womb and then is born to a fuller way of being. The baby has been safe within mum and then they are born to a very new experience, full of new challenges. One of the first things that a baby does when they are born, is cry.
I have speculated that it must be scary, all this new stuff!! Yet, we are glad to hear this cry because the body is breathing.
All we have personally known, is this life. We are surrounded with a familiar environment, often with people who love us. When the time of dying comes, it is understandable that there would be some ambivalence and even some reluctance. We are venturing into the unknown! Yet, it is only unknown to our experience.
Jesus has gone before us into this beyond. He has died, He is Risen and He promises us a place with Him and with each other forever.
It is this promise from a God who does not tell lies that gives me hope, great hope, as I ponder on death. It is this promise that helps me deal with my own grief for the death of so many I know and love.
I can certainly use my imagination to try to reflect on the continuation of our life in the resurrection. I also know that all images of the next life are limited and imperfect. I often reflect on the confronting words of Saint Paul who had a mystical experience of God given to him: ‘I saw what no eye can see, I heard what no ear can hear, what God has in mind for us hugely exceeds our expectations.’ Paul was trying to explain this mystical experience and couldn’t find words. All he could say is, “It is so much better than anything we could ever experience!”
I feel confident that Mike is now surrounded by this amazing mystery and sending his love to us all from where he is.
God Bless you.
+Bishop Charles Gauci
Bishop of Darwin