Our belief in an afterlife is as strong as ever
Last Friday in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, there were commemorations to mark the 50th anniversary of President John F Kennedy. In many other parts, in many other ways people gathered to remember the slain President and those awful events of November 22nd 1963.
In Ireland JFK is remembered fondly, and throughout this year events have been taking place to honour him and remember his visit to Ireland a few short months before his assassination. It's incredible to think that even 50 years after the death of someone, millions of people still talk about him, and indeed still mourn his passing.
November is a month when we traditionally remember our own deceased loved ones. Most, if not all of us, have lost someone we know and we miss them dearly. Close family members, parents or siblings or grandparents or children; close friends and work colleagues; sometimes even people who we barely knew, but who managed to tough our lives and who's absence we feel. We take time to remember them and to pray for them, and indeed to pray for them.
We set this month aside to remember all who have died, people who have lost their lives in all sorts of circumstances in the past year. It can be a difficult time for a lot of people, particularly with Christmas just around the corner, and those who still grieve and mourn the loss of their loved ones are very much in our thoughts at this time too. We also spare a thought this year too for those who aren't related to us, those whom we never knew and whose lives were never connected to ours, but who still weigh on our thoughts.
In the past few weeks we've been hearing about the tragic situation in the Philippines, where so many thousands have lost their lives, and many more are left with the feelings of devastation and loss that have overtaken them so suddenly and unexpectedly. In the midst of our loss we wonder where they are now, we ponder on the existence of an afterlife – some believe in God and a heaven where there is no more tears or sadness or suffering, and some don't. Some believe in reincarnation, and some believe that death is the end and that's it.
The renowned modern-day atheist Stephen Hawking has rubbished the notion of a 'hereafter', claiming that the cornerstone of many religions is nothing more than wishful thinking for those afraid of death. He says: 'There is no heaven or afterlife - that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.'
Christians certainly don't hold this view – we believe that Christ dying and rising from the dead after three days, couple with his promise to the repentant thief that 'this day you will be with me in Paradise', is what lies ahead for all of us after our time here.
There is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection for all of us. With that comes comfort and consolation obviously, but so too does a sense of peace.
I'm reminded of the words of the poem by W.B. Yeats called 'Ben Bulben', the last three lines of which decorate his gravestone in Drumcliffe, County Sligo. Those three short lines have puzzled analysts ever since. What do they mean? What message was Yeats trying to get across? In this month of November we ponder them anew as we remember our departed loved ones.
Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
'Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by.'