As Christmas approaches I’ve been thinking a lot about an important professor to my personal spiritual development, Dr. Russ Connors, whose family will be celebrating their first Christmas without him this year. As my academic advisor he was the kindest, most patient man, I was so lucky to have his guidance in my early years as a theology student. In class I marveled at his ability to facilitate dialogue and engage us in deep conversation. He listened deeply to us and then challenged us further, pulling out of his students the very best of our own thinking process.
In the case of many of my loved ones who’ve passed on, I have felt their continued presence. But I think especially in the case of a student-teacher relationship, when learning and mentorship take place, it really is as if a piece of them lives on in us. I pray that I am able to convey even the smallest slice of what I have learned from Dr Connors to be able to share his kindness and insight into life and faith with those whom I meet. Indeed, I hope that all those whom I’ve loved and lost somehow, remain. Both in my seeking to live my life in light of knowing them, and also in that ever-mysterious way in which the Body of Christ is never broken, even in death.
I think Karl Rahner hits the nail right on the head:
The great and sad mistake of many people,
Among them even pious persons, is to imagine
That those, whom death has taken, leave us.
They do no leave us. They remain!
Where are they? In the darkness?
Oh, no! It is we who are in the darkness.
We do not see them, but they see us.
Their eyes radiant with glory,
Are fixed upon our eyes full of tears.
Oh, infinite consolation!
Though invisible to us, our dead are not absent.
I have often reflected upon the surest
Comfort for those who mourn.
It is this: a firm faith in the real
And continued presence of our loved ones;
It is the clear and penetrating conviction
That death has not destroyed them,
Nor carried them away.
They are not even absent,
But living near to us, transfigured:
Having lost, in their glorious change,
No delicacy of their souls,
No tenderness of their affection.
Death is, for the good, a translation into light,
Into power, into love.
Those who on earth were only ordinary Christians,
Those who were good become sublime.
A Prayer for a Loved One
We seem to give them back to You, O God, You who gave them to us. Yet as You did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return. Not as the world gives, do You give, O lover of Souls. What You give, You take not away, for what is Yours is ours also if we are Yours. And life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing, save the limit of our sight. Therefore lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to yourself that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with You. And while You do prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where You are we may be also for evermore. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.