A priest friend of mine had the funeral. It ripped him up pretty bad for it is a very sad story with lots of complications. What do you say to the family? How does one deal with the tragedy of the event and rectify it to a loving God when people are feeling so poorly?
It is an interesting thought that for most of the sensational deaths one reads about in the papers, there is a minister of some sort staying up that night praying (hopefully) trying to figure out what to say at the funeral.
The notification at the parish usually begins, as it did last week here, with a phone call from a funeral home to our secretary. My first notice of it will be the funeral chalkboard in the back hallway. This chalkboard has “Funerals” written at the top and often has things written on it such as, “Cleveland Browns” or “Indians” – not by my hand however – I like my teams. These will be carefully erased and more serious information written allowing everyone from priests, musicians, to those who work in the church building to know what to expect and when the buildings would be busy.
Such was the case last week when a funeral came in that was as difficult is one my friend had the week before. Generally the next step is to call the family and let them know we are praying for them and thinking of them and invite them in to talk about their loved one and plan the funeral. Sometimes these are joyous meetings, filled with great memories and hope in God’s promises. Sometimes they are tragic and difficult.
Vigil prayers are held during the calling hours. The calling hours is a time that the family very much wants to connect with their support group and it is always a blessing to me that they make the time to stop a pray for a couple of minutes. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes a challenge when those who want to stop by and pay their last respects are waiting in a line out the door in the snow or rain.
Then comes the business of writing the homily – the eight to ten minutes we have to remind people of their faith, their hope for the deceased, our God’s great mercy, the joy under our tears that we can walk out of this Mass with. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it is not.
This last one was one of the more difficult ones. Not much was coming to mind. The morning of the funeral I woke very early. Making a cup of coffee and gathering all kinds of materials I sequestered myself in our study (dubbed the Chesterton Room) and sat down for a couple of hours trying to formulate some words.
The funeral actually turned out to be a buoy for me. Often at funerals people are so distraught (or they have been so out of touch with their faith) that much direction must be given. “Please stand now as we . . .” “Please be seated as the . . .” This particular funeral was chuck full of college students who knew their faith. They showed early for Mass. Some prayed the rosary, some made Stations of the Cross, they made the responses at Mass loudly and clearly, and no direction was needed to be given.
It was a terribly sad situation, but the faith of these young people filled me with such joy. What a blessing they were. What hope they gave.