By Ann Yannetti
Norwalk – Amid the bracing autumn air, over two hundred faithful turned their gazes to the faces of those who have gone before them at St. John Cemetery for the Mass of Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.
“We come to remember and pray for those we loved because the connection of love that we have with them is something that continues in a real way,” said Fr. Frank Hoffmann, Pastor of St. Matthew Church in Norwalk.
Referencing the recent cold snap that has killed off the annuals and plants outside, Fr. Hoffmann reminded us that commemorating All Souls at this time in November serves as a way of recalling the fact that, like those trees and plants, we will eventually leave this world.
“It’s a bittersweet time for all of us in so many ways. For some of us, we’re reminded perhaps of a very recent loss, and this reminds us that this person is gone in a seemingly definite way, so it hurts. For others, it’s a great time to tell stories about those folks who were so much a part of our lives. Many of you may have already placed flowers today on your loved one’s graves. The connection that we have is a real one.”
Fr. Hoffmann shared how the tradition of visiting his parents’ grave in a military cemetery in Florida gives him consolation. “We’re there for maybe five minutes, but we go and lay some flowers because of that connection. Do we think they’re there? Or that we need to go there? We don’t. But it gives us that connection with them. All of us have different ways of remembering those we love.”
And that memory is important, but it’s not the whole story. “Not that I don’t think memories are wonderful. There’s a line from an old Broadway show: Time weaves ribbons of memory to sweeten life when youth is through. But I’m also a little bit of a realist. I’m pretty sure that in a hundred years, no one’s going to remember me. Unless you’ve done something really great or really awful, that’s the way it is. Your name might be a leaf on an Ancestry.com tree, but my point is, that if we’re relying on ‘living forever’ by people remembering us, it ain’t gonna happen.”
“But the good news side – I use that word purposely – is that we don’t need that. We have Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus Christ, we believe that whether people remember us or not, we will live forever. And the people that we loved who have already gone on, that they live forever. It may hurt to think about them sometimes because we miss them and love them so much, but that’s a consequence of love.”
“The good thing though, is that sadness is not the last word. The last word once again is Jesus Christ because it promises us that someday we will share that life that he promises with them in a way that we can’t even begin to imagine, and there will be no more tears because there will be no more goodbyes. I’ve always thought there will be tears at the beginning, when we first see the people we love because they’re not tears of sadness, they’re tears of joy.”
Fr. Hoffmann cited a line in the funeral rite that reads: We believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.
“What that says is that the bond of love is stronger than death. It says that in the Scriptures. And it can’t be broken. It certainly feels different. The promise that Christ gives us by dying on the Cross and rising again is that we’ll share in that life with them, and we’ll never be parted. That’s what our faith tells us. That’s why we come here to pray for these people. We have a connection with them that is real and persevering. It will last forever. Someday it will be more like it was because we’ll be with them in a real way again. And now we have that period where it’s not the way it was, and it’s hard sometimes. But it is not, once again, the last word. The last word of Jesus Christ is not death. His last word is life forever.”
Fr. Hoffmann’s words provided Michelle Alvarez of Norwalk with much-needed solace. “Grief is really hard, but my faith is my anchor. What Father said gives me a lot of hope.”
JoAnn Fabrizio and her mother attend the Mass every year. “I can’t tell you how peaceful I feel on this day and at this cemetery. We meet people here who are so friendly, and we all relate to each other, try to support, and help each other. We get inspired by each other’s faith.”
Assisting Fr. Hoffmann during the Mass were Fr. Ralph Segura, Parochial Vicar of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Norwalk, and Deacon Paul Reilly from St. Philip Church in Norwalk. Janet Mitchell, Director of Religious Education at St. Matthew Church was the Reader, and Tyler Tarver was the organist/vocalist.
At the conclusion of Mass, Fr. Hoffmann thanked the Diocese of Bridgeport Cemetery’s Office “who arranged everything for us,” and the Staff from St. Matthew Church for their assistance. Bottles of Holy Water from Lourdes were distributed to those in attendance.