We commemorate today all those children and young people we know who died in their youth. As we remember them, we can be tempted to remember the anguish, the horror of seeing them taken from us through accident or illness. As a priest, their funerals have been for me the most difficult acts of my priestly ministry. With a full Church of people crying with the psalmist “Why O God do you stay afar off?” it is terrifying to stand as the representative of God and try to bring some crumb of consolation or meaning to such an occasion.
Just as a physical wound cannot leave the body in torment indefinitely, so with a spiritual and emotional wound, the pain does not go away but remains a dull ache, sometimes flaring up into unbearable hurt. We need each other at such times, to share the suffering, to lighten each others’ spirits. And that is why today’s Mass is such a good idea and I want to make sure that we have such an occasion every year. Don’t let me forget!
We must remember that this Church, where we celebrated those awful funerals, is also a room in the home of each of us. We must not allow it simply to be a reminder of sorrow but also a reminder of our solidarity. Here, we have the support of others who do really understand because they have shared the same sadness. Here, we remember our beloved children not only being commended to the Lord but also receiving their first communion, being confirmed, growing up in our community.
And most importantly of all, it is here that we are closest to our departed children and young people. As we gather to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the Church teaches us that the court of heaven also gathers because Jesus Christ is here. That court of heaven includes the holy angels who are our guardians, praying for us unceasingly. It includes the saints of God – including St Aloysius whose feast day it is today.
St Aloysius was from the royal family in Spain. He renounced his title to join the new “Society of Jesus” which had recently been founded by St Ignatius and would later be called the Jesuits. As a young man, he worked tirelessly with those afflicted with the plague. Eventually, he caught the disease and died at the age of 23. In his illness, he wrote to his mother
May the comfort and grace of the Holy Spirit be yours for ever, most honoured lady. Your letter found me lingering still in this region of the dead, but now I must rouse myself to make my way on to heaven at last, and to praise God for ever in the land of the living; indeed I had hoped that before this time my journey there would have been over. If charity, as Saint Paul says, means "to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who are glad," then, dearest mother, you shall rejoice exceedingly that God in his grace and his love for you is showing me the path to true happiness, and assuring me that I shall never lose him.As well as St Aloysius, the patron of teenagers, the communion of the Church gathered with us at the offering of the Holy Mass includes also the children and young people. They are closer to us here at the Mass than at any other time. If they are already in heaven, they are rejoicing in the presence of Christ whom they see not under the appearances of bread and wine but face to face in all his glory and majesty. Enraptured by his presence, their desire and prayer is for all of us to join them in their happiness.
Take care above all things, most honoured lady, not to insult God's boundless loving kindness; you would certainly do this if you mourned as dead one living face to face with God, one whose prayers can bring you in your troubles more powerful aid than they ever could on earth. And our parting will not be for long; we shall see each other again in heaven; we shall be united with our Saviour; there we shall praise him with heart and soul, sing of his mercies for ever, and enjoy eternal happiness.
And if they are in that time of purification which we call purgatory, they are still blissful because they are sure of their place in heaven. They undergo joyfully any preparation which was left incomplete here on earth for the full possession of eternal joy in heaven. And more than that, they rejoice in our prayers which console them, assist them and contribute to their happiness. They are not lost to us, they are in some ways closer to us than they have ever been.
In the Church, we must turn our eyes to heaven. In Holy Communion, we have a foretaste of that heaven. Whenever we receive our Lord, let us try to receive him knowing that we do so in union with all the holy souls and with the whole communion of saints in heaven – including our beloved children and young people.