Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mass of Christian Burial for Paul Yung
Time for the Timeless

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:3-9; John 13:34-35, 14:27-28
Picture: cc mischiru

Dear sisters and brothers, what time is it? We heard in the first reading just now, that there is an appointed time for everything under the sun. If this is true, then what time is it now? Drawing from the list that we heard proclaimed just now, perhaps we would quite naturally say that now is a time for dying, a time for weeping, and a time for mourning. And we would be right. These are the more obvious choices. For it is true that today we grieve the passing from our midst of one dearly beloved. We mourn the death of Uncle Paul. But is that all there is to it? Sisters and brothers, what time is it now, really?

You probably already know this, but I’ve been told that when a revered Buddhist monk or teacher dies, and the body is cremated, people usually search through the ashes that are left behind. They look for what are called, in Tibetan, ringsel. These are small crystal-like beads, which enlightened ones are supposed to leave behind when they die. People treasure these ringsel as precious relics. I’ve never really seen them before. But I’ve heard that not only are they colorful and pretty to look at, these ringsel also have the ability to impart peace and tranquility, even enlightenment, to those who come in contact with them. Some say that these beads can even mysteriously multiply themselves.

Of course, probably few if any of us gathered here are practicing Buddhists. And although there will be a cremation on Monday, I don’t think any of us will be looking for crystals among the ashes. Even so, aren’t we doing something similar, if only in an analogous sense? At the wake last evening, for example, Barbara – our presider – helped us to remember Paul’s goodness and piety, his love and care for his wife Margaret and his daughter Christine, his diligence and loyalty to the postal service, as well as his talent for playing the violin. Christine’s godmother Marge remembered the way in which Uncle Paul used to protect her from allergies when they went to a Chinese restaurant together, and how he used to help her translate medical information from English into Chinese for the Cancer Prevention Society.

This kind of remembering can, of course, feel like a search among ashes. It is often accompanied by tears. For we realize that the one remembered is no longer with us, at least not in the same way. And that realization brings a deep sense of loss. But difficult as it may be, if we care enough for the one who has died, we somehow find ourselves impelled to go on searching. Why? Why do we remember if it is so painful? Is it not because, in the midst of the shifting sands of time, we yearn to find something that endures? Is it not because we long to find crystals in the ashes? And we are not wrong to do this. For, as we heard in the first reading just now, not only has God made everything appropriate to its time, God has also put the timeless into our hearts. And it is crucial that we take time to ponder upon the nature of that for which we seek. What are they, these timeless jewels so deeply embedded in the shifting sands of history, these colorful crystals that still call out to us from within the painful ashes of our memory? How has God planted them in our hearts?

As you know, Uncle Paul breathed his last at 10:45 on Easter Sunday morning. And, as his wife, my aunt Margaret, said to me, this is not something that was chosen. It is a blessing from God. And indeed it is a great blessing because it profoundly immerses Uncle Paul, and all of us who mourn his loss, into the single holiest mystery of the Christian faith. In the words of the memorial acclamation at Mass, by dying Christ destroyed our death, by rising he restored our life. If there is indeed something timeless to be found in our time-bound human existence, we Christians believe that it has been placed there through Christ’s sacrifice upon the Cross. When we search among the ashes of our memory, in the light of the Easter mystery, we find something even more precious than crystals. We find Jesus Christ himself, that pearl of great price, for which it is worthwhile to sell everything in order to obtain it. For by dying and rising for us Christ has left us something enduring. The very thing that we heard proclaimed in the gospel just now. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…

But that is not all. In order to enjoy the profound peace that Christ’s dying and rising has won for us, we need to take certain steps. The second reading from the Philippians spoke to us about these in terms of thinking and doing. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. Or, as Jesus puts it in the gospel, love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. And isn’t it true that when we do this – we the family and friends of Uncle Paul – isn’t it true that when we do this, we ourselves become the precious jewels that he leaves behind, so as to lead others into the peace of Christ? I’m reminded of something else that Marge shared with us last night. She said that now that Uncle Paul can no longer protect her from her allergies, Christine has taken over that task.

Sisters and brothers, even if it is true that now is the time for weeping and for mourning, perhaps it is just as, if not more, true that now is also the time for loving and for sharing peace. Even if there is truly an appointed time for everything under sun, perhaps now is, above all, the time to search for and to allow ourselves to be captured by the timeless.

Sisters and brothers, today, even as we continue to struggle with our feelings of grief and loss, how might we find the pearl of great price and so become shining jewels in the shifting sands of time?


  1. Fr Chris

    Please accept my prayers and condolences at this time of bereavement. Thank you for the beautiful homily of finding God's treasures in the sands of one's living memories and the captivating photograph.

    a distant friend

  2. Fr Chris, I feel both sorry and glad for your aunt Margaret and uncle Paul.

    Sorry to know that your uncle Paul has passed away. Glad to hear that he had lived a meaningful and loving life. In his last hours, he was surrounded by people who loved him, shared the same faith in our Lord and lovingly told him "to go into the arms of Jesus." His funeral was attended by loved ones and celebrated by an outstanding priest who's also his nephew. What more should one ask?

    Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.

  3. To die on Easter Sunday is a blessing from God indeed.

    "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD." - Psalm 118:17


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...