For any of us who have, as we say, "lost loved one's", today's gospel given for the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene hold a particular significance. At first, the command of Jesus for her to stop holding on can seem harsh. But he knows what she cannot yet understand. His journey, indeed his work is not complete.
Not until he completes the circle and returns to the Father, opening for each of us the way to heaven, is his mission complete.
When someone dies, it seems to me we have two tendencies that are not truly Christian in the fullest sense. One is to canonize them. To talk at funerals as if the moment they died their soul went straight to heaven, end of story.
To other is closely related to it. We also freeze them like beetles in amber. We attempt to freeze the image in our mind, the good and, let's be honest, the bad as well. Like Mary Magdalene we want to hold on to them just they way they were.
What we forget is that according to our Christian faith death is not the end of life, but more importantly it is not the end of change. In fact, except for those who have completely cut themselves off from God, the change that happens to us after what the world calls death may the the most important part of our journey.
In the gospel Jesus commands us to "be perfect." It seems a ridiculous and impossible command. It is, however, in that time after this earthly life that the possibility becomes reality. I know that there are those who have dismissed the notion of purgatory because the word per se is not in the Bible. But to me it is one of God's best gifts to us. The idea that when each of us completes the earthly part of our journey, God will then do two more things which will bring us to that true perfection.
First, God will cleanse of whatever imperfection remains, purgatory. Lastly, at the end of time when Christ returns he will "raise our moral bodies and make them like his own in glory." Then and only then will our journey be complete.
Many of us have relatives that we may love but who were in their earthly life far from perfect. The phrase "dysfunctional family" is ubiquitous for a reason. We should, however, keep in mind that, unless they were so evil as to warrant hell, they have undergone a great deal of change since their passing. Whether their purgatory is complete or not, they have changed at least some so that they are not exactly as you remember them, but better. And will be even better still. They are on their way to perfection, and in fact may already be far more perfect than you or me.
So stop holding on to the images of who our departed bothers and sisters were, let go of the person you remember, and look forward with true Christian hope to one day meeting the purged, perfected person that God intended them to be. And look forward to the hope that when the earthly part of our life is complete, God will then purge us of whatever remains that keeps us from being the person we were created to be. In the meantime we keep trying each day to be a little more like Christ.