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COLM MEANEY : The Capaciousness of Life

Sometimes during a funeral homily, naturally with appropriate solemnity, I ask the mourners if they think that life has ended for the corpse lying in the coffin. Some might look at me as if I had lost my marbles by asking such a foolish question; others nod that, yes, there’s no life in the coffin. And I suspect that many of us would think likewise.

Common sense tells us that the corpse is as cold as marble, and we know that there is no heartbeat, no pulse, no breathing in the lungs, no activity in the brain. And science can confirm these everyday observations, almost able to say, to the nearest second, when life ceased. Thus we have the phrase life is “from the womb to the tomb”. This makes sense, and any other speculation would seem absurd or bizarre. And yet, other speculation is precisely what our faith places before us.

No, our faith teaches us something far more fantastic than anything science could ever imagine. In the words of the Preface of the funeral Mass, it says:

“Lord, for your faithful people, life has changed, not ended”.

Now this is truly staggering. Science and common sense say that at death life has ended: no heartbeat, pulse, breath, and so on. But our faith proclaims that those are not the ultimate signs of life. For all the dead, life has not ended, it has changed.

We can comprehend many of the realities we experience, from the most mundane to the highly complex, but Life can never be comprehended or fathomed by us. Notwithstanding the incredible advances of the sciences, whether biology, DNA, genetics and so forth, our faith teaches us that Life is more capacious  and will always elude comprehensive, total understanding.

Can this “theory” of the grave not being our ultimate end, be explained or even understood? No, but it can be believed in: that life is vaster than all our knowledge.

And that in some strange way, inaccessible to our understanding, life has changed. Saint Paul said that what is lowered into the grave is a mortal body, but that what comes next is a spiritual one (I Corinthians 15:42) – whatever that means. Jesus spoke, among other things, about a heavenly banquet (Matthew 8:11) – again, whatever that means. But what is certain is that both men believed that our stay on planet Earth is not the only expression of life for us.

Life, Existence, Being, whatever suits your fancy: simply too capacious to be comprehended by science. But faith outflanks all our knowledge and ingenuity and proclaims the incredible, proposes the fantastic. Many think it nothing but childish consolation in the face of the inevitable ending of each and every life, and I do not think that there is any argument that can be made against this view.

But for those who are able to entertain the too-good-to-be-true magic of the notion that the grave isn’t our final end, there ensues a certain serenity; not certainty, but serenity. Something like a profound belief that, along with the unavoidable sadness accompanying death, there is also an underlying, unquenchable hope of something greater to come.

So we  believe that the deceased continue the endless exploration into the divine mystery which holds all of us in being. While living, every breath we take, every beat of our hearts, is a gift of the divine Source of all. And when we have breathed our last, something strange continues, unknown to us. This might seem preposterous or nonsensical, but I prefer the adjective “divine”, which I think cannot be trumped.

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