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07 July 2010

Catholic Funeral Homily, #1

Life is a funny thing.  One moment we are here and the next we are gone.  Some people live to a ripe old age, like N. and some people die when they are very young.  Life is full of questions.  Mommy, why do you do that?  Daddy, why do we have to go to Mass every Sunday?  Teacher, what is the answer to number 4?  Darling, will you marry me?  And perhaps the biggest question of all, “Dear God, what’s the meaning of life?”  The answer to the last question can really only be answered by God.  For we read in the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, “none us lives for oneself, and no one dies for one’s self.  For if we live, it is for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord.” Our life is really something that is only known by God.  Nobody knows all the different facets of N.’s life and all the different people that he/she came into contact with.  That is why life is like a jigsaw puzzle, and only God knows when the puzzle is completed.  Only God knows when as the Letter to the Corinthians says “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” We sit here and we mourn the passing of N., and I like that phrase, the passing of N., rather than N.’s dying, because as Catholics we know that death is not the end.  We will pray in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, “Lord, for your faithful people live is changed not ended.”  N.’s death is a passing, a doorway to that eternal dwelling in Heaven, mentioned by St. Paul in today’s readng.  Death is not a state of being but a doorway, we pray, to a greater and more abundant life promised by Jesus for those who love Him and keep His commandments. A very holy priest told me when my own mother was passing into the next life, that last thing your mother teaches you is how to die.  We might look back at the lives we have led and the lives we are leading now for it may be that the last gift that N. has given us was to teach us how to die. Yet, our faith tells us that N. is alive.  As I said, the beautiful phrase in the preface to the Eucharistic prayer for Christian death says, “Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.”  And it is at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that we encounter Jesus.  As the would-be Pope Benedict XVI said “Liturgy must really have its great continuity. . .in which I really meet the millennia and through them eternity.” That is why we come here today.  We come here to be taken up into eternity.  We come here to today to be re-membered.  We are RE-MEMBERED—brought together again as a member of Christ’s Mystical Body, --- in the great memorial of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because the Mass makes Christ’s one definitive sacrifice on the Cross present to us here, today.  In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus is not just remembered in an intellectual and sentimental way.  As Catholics, we believe that the bread and the wine through the power of the Holy Spirit and the words of the priest are changed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is substantially present—Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Holy Eucharist.  When we remember Jesus in this way—He is really and truly with us.  How is that possible?  Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains I me and I in him.”  Through N.’s baptism, his/her reception of the Eucharist, as well as the other sacraments, he/she was joined to the divine life of Jesus.  And if N. was joined to Jesus through the sacraments, our faith tells us that N. will be remembered by Jesus through all eternity when He will raise our mortal bodies to join Him in heaven.  On the day of his/her Baptism, N., was adopted into the family of God the Father.  Jesus, our brother, began preparing N.’s room in the Father’s mansion.  It seems a paradox that at Baptism we celebrate dying to this world but at funerals, we celebrate rising to new life.  That new life for N. began on the day of his/her Baptism.  That’s why we will sprinkle his/her casket/urn with holy water (and cover it with the white funeral pall symbolizing the white garment that he/she wore at his/her Baptism.)  We will light the Easter Paschal candle, the symbol of the resurrected Christ who is our light; that same light which N. received at Baptism.  His/Her new life began at Baptism; the life that every baptized Christians shares; the life that we are called to share; the life which N. is now called to experience fully.  But that fullness of life came at a cost.  Jesus died on the cross and purchased for us a share in the fullness of life that He has with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus’ death brought life to the world.  This is the paradox of the cross and the resurrection.  We cannot experience the fullness of life in the resurrection, if we are not willing to die to ourselves, reject sin, and embrace the suffering of the cross.  N. experienced that cross in his/her own life.  He/She suffered through the problems of getting older. He/She suffered through the death of his/her own parents, (husband/wife, __________), and his friends and relatives.  All those losses were preparing him/her, drawing him/her away from this world, and preparing him/her to meet the Lord.  We too are suffering the death of N.  We too stand at the foot of the cross and experience the pain of death as St. John and our Blessed Mother did when they stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus die.  But in some sense, we are more blessed that even St. John and our Blessed Mother, for on that Good Friday when our Lord died, they had not yet experienced the joy of the resurrection.  We sit here and mourn the death of N., yet, we know that death is not the end.  We know that on the last day, our bodies will rise gain.  Therefore, in the Holy Eucharist, we come to be re-membered not only with the Body and Blood Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ but with all those faithful who have gone before us.  And if N. was joined to Jesus through the sacraments, our faith tells us that he will be remembered by Jesus through all eternity when He will raise their mortal bodies to join Him in heaven—even if we should forget.
You may also be interested in A Critique of Catholic Funeral Homilies.


James Netusil said...

I guess I'd really like to know where you got this homily since this is MY homily which I wrote in 2009 in a homiletics class.

Fr. Larry said...

Glory be to Jesus Christ! I know that feeling. I beleive I have come up with some wonderful idea and then find out that St. John Chrysostom or Pope Benedict has said the same thing. I checked my records and most of this homily came from the funeral I did for a parishioner, named Jack Garrity, back in 2008. Some of the material was even earlier at least to 2006. I included the part about going to Mass every Sunday because many people who come to a funeral do not come to Sunday Mass. The part about your mother teaching you how to die came from my old spiritual director, Fr. Dom Maruca, S.J. The part about death is not a state of being but a doorway, I heard at a funeral presided over by Bishop Francis Mallooly. The jigsaw puzzle was an analogy I think I used in my first diaconal homily. The part about standing at the foot of the cross and being more blessed than the Blessed Mother, I got from my pastoral year supervisor, Msgr. Victor Galeone, who is, now, the retired Bishop of St. Augustine. The part about being united with all those souls who have gone before us came from a "7 secrets of the Eucharist' who in turn stole it from St. Therese of Lisieux's "Story of a Soul." I don't really remember where the other stuff came from. I hope this helps to answer your question.


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