In what seems like a lifetime ago, I used to work as a youth minister for a Church. In my last few years there I had a girl in youth group, shy with braces, who was pushed by her parents to attend with her sister and step-sister. She came on retreats and mission trips and I saw a beautiful young woman start to emerge, but I lost contact with her in my whirlwind of birthing babies. Last week I received the news that at the age of 21, she died in a car accident.
I immediately started to cry. She was so young, and after having lost her own mom at a young age, she was thriving at her university and involved in her faith. I stared at the obituary, trying to let it sink in. It just doesn’t make sense to lose such a beautiful life. One minute she is driving, planning for her next day’s schoolwork, and the next minute she is gone.
The following Sunday at Mass, we were singing the Gloria: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you.” And I was looking at the huge cross behind the altar when I stopped and said to God, “How can I praise you at a time like this? How can I bless you for taking this young woman’s life away?” I was thinking especially of her family and sisters and how hard this must be for them right now, and of how she was to graduate in May and do great things with her life.
And at that moment while I was looking at the cross, Christ spoke in my heart, “No one lives forever except through me.” Here I was, looking at the symbol of Christ’s death, which we display prominently in every Catholic Church because his death was the beginning of our eternal life. The only way to live forever is through death.
Her life was a gift. In fact, all our lives are a gift because God brought us into existence. And being able to live forever in heaven is the reward we are all longing for. But we live in this paradox, caught between embracing this earthly life and longing for the one that lies ahead. In some ways, God has been good to this young woman to bring her home sooner. How can I get mad at God for giving this girl her heavenly treasure? And yet, so many of her family and friends will suffer for years after her tragic death, mourning the life that could have still been.
So what is one to do? It is a good thing to grieve, to cry, and to mourn. I’m not even sure what words comfort one who is hurting from loss. But the only way forward is through hope. Hope in eternal life. I’m trying to remember that we are a pilgrim Church, and this earth is our journey. It makes me want to hug my kids a little tighter and pray a little harder because I want to live this life fully and be ready when God wants me home.
I leave you with the verse that began her obituary,
“If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)