More than 100 Catholics warmed themselves in the rays of sunlight on the chilly Nov. 2 morning.
Yards away from headstones bearing the names of faithful departed, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor celebrated the annual All Souls Day Mass at Calvary Cemetery in Little Rock. The Mass was also celebrated with Father Jack Vu, pastor of St. Patrick in North Little Rock; and Father Joseph de Orbegozo, rector of the Cathedral of St. Andrew. Deacon Marc Rios of the Cathedral of St. Andrew assisted.
In his homily, Bishop Taylor discussed grief during the loss of a loved one and how grief can change depending on the nature of a loved one’s death.
“Some of our losses are loved ones who have lived a long time,” the bishop said. “Losses that came at a time when everyone could see that the time had come. … Others have experienced losses that came suddenly when we least expected it — the kind of death that we’re warned to always be prepared for. And yet, we never really are. Young or old, physically fit or couch potato, a peaceful passing that was sudden, or a victim of violence or on death row – none of us gets out of here alive.”
Bishop Taylor reflected on the loss of his brother two years ago, who died following complications from a lung infection, in spite of gradual improvement during his treatment for leukemia.
“You just never know. Maybe you’ve had experiences that parallel that,” Bishop Taylor said. “But what I do know is that God used years of illness and struggle to develop in my brother qualities of character, especially patience and perseverance, a great sense of God’s presence, a greater sense of his dependence on God, which served to prepare him well on that day when it came. Some of you have had a very similar experience as you journeyed with a loved one through illness and physical decline leading to what you could see was going to be an inevitable death. The Lord uses our times of loss to draw us to himself as a source of strength, comfort and wisdom as we prepare to face the future without that departed loved one.”
For examples of deepening our faith in God through loss, Bishop Taylor turned to Psalm 23, a chapter in Scripture he often directs grieving Catholics to.
“I recommend this psalm because in it we have an interesting progression,” the bishop said. “The psalm has two parts to it. It begins with beautiful pastoral scenes — green pastures, still waters. In those passages … the psalmist speaks about God in the third person. ‘The Lord is my shepherd. He makes me rest in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He gives me new strength. He guides me along the right paths.’ When things are going great, he speaks about God – the God that he’s heard about, that he knows about and has been taught some things about.”
Bishop Taylor said, in the middle of the psalm is a “big change.”
“The psalmist enters a difficult experience which he calls ‘passing through the valley of the shadow of death,’” the bishop said. “And there he changes from using the third person to using the second person. He starts saying ‘you’ instead of ‘he.’ He changes from speaking about God to speaking to God, as with a friend and source of strength. He says, ‘I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. … Your goodness and your kindness accompany me through all my days. In your house, O Lord, I will live forever.”
Bishop Taylor said God brings us closer to himself in life’s dark valleys.
“It’s obvious that the psalmist felt closer to God in the dark valley than in the green pastures; and it’s always that way,” the bishop said. “For our loved ones, ‘the strife is o’er, the battle done.’ It is us who remain, who still experience the dark valley of grief and loss. But as the psalmist insists, the shepherd has not forgotten the sheep. He’s with us, every step of the way.”
Following the homily, Calvary Cemetery office manager Tricia Gentry read the names of the departed faithful who died this year and were buried at Calvary Cemetery. After Mass, Bishop Taylor led more than 60 Catholics in a procession through the cemetery, praying the rosary and blessing graves.
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