Sunday, May 9, 2021
“‘In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.’”
“Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
“‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’”
The three funerals I have had in 2021 for personal relations have all had questions. The first was for my friend from Boy Scouts, Brian, who was not Catholic, although he was Christian and married to a Catholic, and his funeral was not a Catholic funeral, per se, done in a funeral home with a modified Catholic rite. The second was for my cousin Nick after he committed suicide. Although no longer the case, some remember when a Catholic funeral was denied to those who took their own lives. For Nick, we celebrated a Mass of Christian Burial. The third was for my stepfather Phil, who was not baptized or overtly religious, and we celebrated a modified Catholic rite at the funeral home. So, what gives? Why is a Catholic priest doing these funerals?
First, as I have mentioned before, as a pastor I have the responsibility for the care of souls within our parish boundaries, whether baptized Catholic or not, and often extend care for the living by burying their dead and accompanying them in their grief with the hope of faith. Second, burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy and two of the spiritual works of mercy include comforting the sorrowful and praying for the living and the dead. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy (seven of each) are ways we can help our neighbors with their spiritual and physical needs. If you’ve forgotten them, you may wish to look them up as a refresher. In our lives, they give witness to the mercy of God, which is the third point here. Divine Mercy is such an important theological development that we now celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday as the second Sunday of Easter (the most important liturgical celebration of the Church). God is mercy, itself. While we cannot presume God’s actions, we can entrust ourselves and our loved ones to the mercy of God, cracking open our hardened hearts to let God’s mercy flood in. As we can say with confidence that God is love, we can also say with the same confidence that God is mercy. Without knowing the state of a soul, those whose faith is known to God alone, we trust their judgment to God’s mercy.
Fourth is the mystery of love. God shows no partiality and whoever has experienced real love, whether giving or receiving, has experienced something of the divine. Love is the pinnacle of the Christian life and message of good news. Without love, we are nothing, as St. Paul says. Most commonly, we celebrate this love explicitly with the rite of marriage, where the whole focus is the covenant of love between bride and groom. Funerals, however, are also a recognition of the presence and power of love in the life of the deceased and all of those who shared in their love. We do, in fact, remember and pray for our loved ones who have died. Celebrating a funeral is an act of love, done for love, and honoring love. We touch the mystery of divine love in our tangible expression of human love. Even in loss, we love and trust that love has conquered death. I was obliged to do these funerals. It was the obligation and the gift of love.