Today’s gospel is part of the Church’s funeral rites and the “Commendation of the Dying.” As the family gathers around the bedside, words seem inadequate. How can we put words on this mystery of death and life and loss? But it is then, when mere human words are not enough, that the Word of God speaks powerfully.
When the Gospel is proclaimed in the Liturgy, it is Christ himself who speaks. Only the Word of God brings light to the darkness of death, offering hope and the peace the world cannot give:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way . . . I am the way and the truth and the life . . . Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.
Priests who have stood by many bedsides of the ill and dying have witnessed the peace brought by these words and the sacraments. We have witnessed Christ speaking anew through his Word and acting in his sacraments. Through the Church, through the sacraments, through his priests, Jesus continues to act as he did when he visibly walked this earth. Through the last sacraments, Christian penance is brought to completion and the soul is prepared for glory. When nothing else seems to help, when mere human words seem weak or hollow, the Word of God speaks and acts. Through the priest, Christ acts, Christ saves, Christ loves, Christ forgives, Christ heals, Christ consoles, Christ expels demons, Christ reassures, Christ sustains, Christ raises up.
Memories of countless sick-calls return. Let me share one. Anne was a woman dying of cancer. When I would bring her Holy Communion, she would come to the door, lighted candle in hand, and say in Irish: “A hundred thousand welcomes to you both!”—to me, the priest, but especially to the One brought to her and for whom she longed, Jesus Christ himself.
In a remarkable way, the priest shows us Jesus, and Jesus shows us the Father. We are drawn to the loving heart of the Father: “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.” Saint John the Evangelist, our seminary patron, loves this dynamic of the Son revealing the Father. Only the Son, nearest the Father’s heart, shows us the Father (John 1:18). The Father sends Jesus and Jesus sends his priest: “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” (John 13:20). To be a priest is to be sent. It is to be the presence of Christ who shows us the Father.
May the Lord bless you for supporting future priests to bring us Jesus—that we may see the Father!