A few days ago, I learned that a friend of mine passed away. I was devastated when I heard the news, and I didn’t believe it at first. It must have been a mistake, I thought. He was too good to die; the world needs him.
Grief is a natural process that all people go through when a loved one passes away. Christians go through the stages of grief. They don’t stop being sad just because they’re Christian. Even Jesus wept when Lazarus died (Jn 11:35). The advantage we have as Christians, though, is that we have a solid hope that people who pass away are not gone forever; their existence hasn’t disappeared.
Our hope is in the Lord. We hope that our loved ones are at least in purgatory, perhaps even already in heaven. We can take comfort in this hope, seeing our loved ones still alive in Christ, sleeping as it appears to our eyes, but still alive.
St. Paul wrote,
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. -1 Thes 4:13-14
Because I know my friend had a good heart and I experienced the depth of his fraternal love, I feel confident that he’s in heaven. At the same time, I know that I could be wrong, and reason tells me purgatory is most likely the first stop for us all, so I’ve been praying for him just in case. The best thing I can do for my friend now is to pray for him.
I’m not sure why God takes one person and leaves another at any given time, but I do wonder if maybe God planned it in such a way that my friend’s passing and my staying here work toward each other’s goal of heaven. I’m praying for my friend to get into heaven, and reflecting on his passing is helping me to reflect on the things that are important in my own life for getting to heaven.
I will keep praying for my friend and will have a Mass offered for him. And of course, I will keep missing him, though I hope that in time my emotional focus will shift to being happy that my friend is on his way to heaven (or perhaps there now).
I believe, with St. Paul, that Jesus died and rose again, and therefore, we have reason to hope.