Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I will have the honor to perform (what is for me) an unusual funeral service today for someone with whom I was close. The person being buried is Catholic but has long since stopped practicing other than for funerals, weddings, and the odd ordination. Her family’s belief does not necessarily extend to an afterlife. So, in large part it guts most of what I usually have to say at moments like this and it makes me contemplate what we have. Some of the problems are tricky and challenging. How do I end a prayer? I can’t say through Christ our Lord – or make the Sign of the Cross. Though they understand that I am a committed Catholic Christian and these things will just have to be a part of it, it will not make a sense to make too much of it since it more likely will turn the family off than anything else. Other things are more challenging. For the Christian, in our sadness we have hope. Even if tears should stream down our faces there is always a little flicker of joy that the dates that will appear below the name of the person on their grave marker will not simply mark a birth and death year, but two birth years; one into this world, one into the next. When we look at a graveyard we not only see those to whom we had to say goodbye, but we also call to mind that they are waiting to greet us again when we come to join them. And not in just some anonymous way – we don’t become part of some great energy or recyclable life system with no memory, but in a real and personable way. If we are so graced to enter into the kingdom of Heaven, I shall see those I love again for that is way Christ is in heaven and He is the foretaste and promise of what shall happen to us.

But what if you don’t have this hope? What does one do with death? We comfort each other, we remember, and we try to take what we appreciate in the life of the person and carry it on and hope that their memory lives on as long as their grave stone lasts. But like a torn down mansion – the person is simply gone. Look at this gravestone. This person did a lot – accomplished a lot. I know it because this person had it printed out on his gravestone. Is that the extent of our lives? What is left behind is a memorial in bronze we hope someone keeps the weeds from overtaking? This stone utterly depresses me.

The odd part to me is that it takes just as much faith to believe that there is not a God as it does to believe that there is one. I for one am glad I have God. Even if it turns out that I am wrong (and I do not believe so) I will have lived life in more hope and joy beleiving those I loved did not cease to exists at the end of the dash and date and that we are still united in Christ and we shall enjoy each other’s company again.


Robin said...

Please let me share an experience with you that will perhaps be of some help. I am a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian church, but most of my family, both immediate and extended, is not religious at all. When our son died two years ago, the congregation for his funeral included people of almost every branch of Christianity, Judaism from Reform to Orthodox, and people of no faith whatever. We had a fairly traditional service of Witness to the Resurrection -- with much personal material included, especially for the young people -- and there could be no doubt that a proclamation of hope was made in the midst of the acknowledgment of pervasive sorrow. As far as I know, no one found the service meaningless or offensive; in fact, quite the opposite. One of my best friends, who is Jewish, was sitting next to a young woman who was at one time my son's babysitter and is an atheist; the first told me that they turned to each other during the service and said, "I love coming to church!"

I think that people expect you to honor your faith and they are often quite moved by it, and perhaps find links to their own longing for belief, so long as you do not envision a funeral as an opportunity for an altar call -- which I cannot imagine in a Catholic mass but have been subjected to in a Protestant funeral context.

Chuck said...

Thanks Fr. V and I pray that you will come up with comforting, hope filled words to those who grieve. Death is the ultimate thing that takes control out of our hands. Even if we commit suicide,we cannot control wht happens afer we die. Not one of us had control over our own birth and not one of us has control of what happens after we die. No one likes that! We can face death with fear or we can face death with joy. Facing death with no fear would be the greatest gift that I can ever have. Facing death with God beside me is what I believe live with my end in mind.

Vincenzo said...

Looks like Blogger broke your header graphic.
I retrieved the .jpg from a search engine cache:

And I found an original .gif - the blue letters will be clearer:

If you ever switch to a new/wider blog template let me know and I can try to build a new larger one from scratch.

ellen said...

"Two birth years". I LOVE that. Thanks!

Margaret Comstock said...

If you want a depressing experience attend a Buddhist funeral. They pray [I know not to whom since they acknowledge no god] that the deceased not be reincarnated as a lower life form and that ultimately all senses, all thought will be blocked and reincarnation will cease. How can one continue without the love of God? So pitiful.

Anonymous said...

I want my headstone to read simply

"See, I told you I was sick"

Nan said...

Fr. V, you know the Holy Spirit will always provide you with the right words.