Blessed are those who mourn (Matthew 5 )
At the beginning of last week I went to a most wonderful celebration. One of the most inspiring and uplifting masses I had ever attended. It was a moment of great joy and celebration. The Church was full - over 200 people perhaps more than 300 gathered on a cold and wet Monday morning. There were two bishops and about 60 priests. The singing lifted the roof. The homily raised our hearts (one of the best homilies I have ever heard). And I do not think I exaggerate at all when I say no one left that Church who was not encouraged and heartened by that celebration.
So what was it - an ordination? a wedding? the consecration of a new Church? the celebration of an anniversary of some kind?
No. It was a funeral. And a funeral with a particularly tragic dimension. Of a young priest - in his early 40s - a priest whose best friend at seminary had died of cancer - a priest who contracted a degenerative brain condition just a couple of years after his ordination and who had gradually over four years declined and withdrawn much to the distress of his parents and his friends.
But despite this cruel tragedy, and this wasted potential, this funeral mass was uplifting and filled with hope. Oh yes, of course there were tears. And moments of great poignancy. No one supposed that this was not a tragic and sad loss.
But we all knew that this was not all. That this pain that was felt - real pain, real sorrow, real loss - was taken up in hope, in a certainty that the life that Fr John Bentley had lived, in the offering of his own life he had made, was indeed a preparation for this day - as surely all our lives are a preparation for our day of departure.
It is not that all those at the funeral were suffering from some mass delusion that John had not in fact died. Oh yes, we knew that only too well. And we knew what death is - and more importantly, we understand what Life is - because that, after all, is the very point.
If we do not understand what it means to live, we will never comprehend what it means to die.