Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The World is Upside-Down

Yesterday began with a funeral and ended with beer. You might think that made it a good day, a day that moved from darkness to light, from death to merriment, but sometimes life is more complicated than that, and probably death too. Let’s start with the beer.

It was a joyful, convivial beer event, shared with eight or nine friends, and not the lonely, staring-into-one’s-cup kind of beer that is a sad excuse for solace. I came into the beer event from a meeting that confirmed everything worldly that is important to me: friends, their love for me, the order of the universe, and my place in it. There was no reason for the beer to be anything but triumphal.

But pride goeth before the foul-up, and that is what happened last evening. Something happened, something was said (by me) near the end of the evening that was surely the result of self-affirmation and triumph and beer which, once done and said, made me burn with regret. I remember another instance—in college—when this sort of thing happened: me crowing about something, then looking across the room and realizing that what I said had wounded a friend. I still haven’t forgotten the words I let slip or his wounded face.

I’m sure no one gave a second thought to my slip last night (maybe a first thought, quickly forgiven), but I thought about it going to bed and I woke up with it too, choking on it like a rock in my throat. I took it to Mass with me this morning and then to St. Joseph after Mass, by which point my suffering over my stupidity had become a generalized suffering over so much about me that’s missing.

So last night triumph turned to suffering, while yesterday morning what could only be termed a tragedy turned to triumph.

I served at a funeral for a man who had lived a very difficult life; from the little I heard, he had lived alone and in some sense injured. A surprisingly large family group turned out for his funeral, despite his solitary life. On top of the usual sorrow of bereavement was heaped the sorrow of thinking (for me), perhaps knowing (for his family), that this life had been a sort of tragedy in the Arthur Miller sense: not a fall from greatness but a long wallow in sorrow and loneliness.

My pastor confessed to me before the Mass, as we prepared in the sacristy, that he knew very little about the deceased, providing only the details of lived alone and difficult life. I filled in the details in my own mind. I wondered how he could possibly preach at this Mass. Like you probably, I had attended other funerals, though not in his church, where the minister was clearly clueless about the deceased.

My pastor gave one of the best homilies I have ever heard, taking as his Gospel the story of the thief on the cross beside Christ, who asked to be remembered by Him. The connection was indirect—the deceased had not been a “thief”—but the implication was clear. Jesus offers salvation to all of us and even at the very last moment. We need only turn to him. I left the church yesterday morning with an extra spring in my step and a great appreciation for the church and its priests, especially my own.

By the time I left Mass and St. Joseph this morning, buoyed in part by a homily on suffering, I was in a better frame of mind. Suffering, I see now and then, is not so far from triumph, if only we will stay in front of it, like a server at a funeral Mass.

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