Kerry Alys Robinson

Love doesn’t end with death

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

My closest friend and colleague for more than 20 years, Father Bob Beloin, the Catholic chaplain at Yale University, died recently of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Grief, the price we pay for love, is all-consuming. But mercifully, so is faith.

During the Mass of Christian burial, our good friend Father Joe Donnelly began his poignant and consoling homily by recalling the words of legendary seminary professor Father Geno Walsh: “Jesus Christ promised those who followed him two things: Your life is going to have meaning and you are going to live forever. If you get a better offer, take it.”

During the month of November, Catholics all over the world remember and celebrate those we have loved in this life who have been born into eternal life. We are reminded that the invitation to sanctity is not for the unattainably pious or impossibly virtuous, but for all of us.

All Saints Day and All Souls Day are joyful times and a reminder that we who are living are called to be in communion with those who have died.

In our faith community, thanks to the influence of our Latino sisters and brothers, we celebrate Dia de los Muertos, a tradition dating back to the Aztecs and the Mayans, during which we remember those we love who have died and rejoice with confidence that they are with God for all of eternity.

The death of those we love can provide an aperture into the afterlife. What our faith teaches us about life and death would suggest that there is nothing generic about the afterlife, and our ongoing relationship with those who have died is not static.

Remembering and emulating their lives as well as the lives of those formally declared to be saints can make us more conscious of the community to which God calls us. It is striking to ponder the concrete realities of the lives of saints. They are uniquely themselves, like us with deeply human idiosyncrasies, flawed, often struggling, searching for meaning, wanting goodness, yearning for a deeper faith and for God.

One thing for certain, the saints we encounter on earth never think they are saints. I suspect this is because their orientation is outward, other-centered, not inward and solipsistic.

A few months before my friend died, he caught me silently crying and asked in all innocence the reason for my tears. I told him I was worried that once he died I would no longer have the inspiration and access to joy his friendship offered me; that no longer would he provide the life-giving motivation to carry on my work on behalf of the church.

I told him, “You will be gone and our friendship will be over. I fear the lasting impact so great a loss will have on me.”

His answer surprised me. He said, “None of that will change. After I die, use the present tense, not past. This is our faith. This is what we hold true. The promise of eternal life is not a fiction. We will be bound up in the communion of saints — a belief we profess every time we recite the creed. We will see each other again. Love doesn’t end with death.”

Those words — that belief, central to our Christian faith — have consoled me in the aftermath of his death while coping with grief.

What a gift, too, that we can emulate the attributes of the saints that are common to many, or particular to some. We can be grateful. We can choose to be more loving. We can lean in to mercy. We can persevere. We can have the courage of heroic virtue. We can be forgiving.

And we can have faith that the promise of eternal life with God and with those we love just might be God’s greatest blessing to us.