Friday, December 9, 2011

Serving at Funerals

In the spring of 2008, I hadn’t been an official Catholic for a single week before I told my pastor that I wanted to be a deacon. That was my ravenous dog phase. I wanted to eat everything in the Church: be a lector, sing in choir, teach religious ed, serve at funerals, attend CL School of Community on Friday evenings and the parish men’s group on Saturday mornings. All of this on top of daily Mass, daily Adoration, frequent confessions, and be a world-famous Catholic blogger—I was a disaster. I have witnesses.

The dog has been fed, and he has stopped tearing up and down the aisles during Mass, eating people’s mittens and harassing innocent children. I have settled down into what I hope is a non-grandiose life as a happy, observant Catholic.

I decided some time ago that I was probably too old for the permanent diaconate. Anyway, our parish has a deacon-in-training, my friend Michael, who I think will be a splendid deacon, hopefully working in our parish. I have given up several other mad-dog activities, as well. 

But I still serve at funerals and I hope I always will—either until I’m too infirm or until someone serves at mine. Serving at funerals will get you thinking about your own death, a good thing, and your own funeral, a mixed blessing. I once thought I wanted to live to 100, but now I’m not so sure. Let me explain.

Last evening I was driving to a meeting when suddenly I ran into seriously backed-up traffic where you don’t usually have a problem. We crawled along through a settled suburban area for ten minutes, until I finally reached…a funeral home! It was a wake! But not any ordinary wake, I concluded. Must be someone big and famous, because the cars were everywhere, and the queue of those standing, waiting to get into the funeral home went around the building.

I did some research this morning: Nope, not famous. Forty and a family man. Probably a good man, loved or at least known by many.

This morning I served at a funeral for a 96-year-old. At 11 am, the scheduled starting time, the family had not yet arrived with the coffin, and there were only about twelve friends scattered through the pews. I thought, How sad. He outlived his generation, and now few people remember him, outside his family.

I don’t know about you, but I want a line around the building. But that means an early death, not a late one. This presents a quandary: Die young and go out with a bang, or die old with a whimper.

However, my quandary was lifted (if that’s what happens to quandaries) when I listened to the eulogy after this morning’s Mass. Our parish does not encourage eulogies, but about half of the funerals have them anyway. Most eulogies are too long, and they are given by the wrong eulogist, someone who breaks down crying every other sentence. Sorry, but I’ve served a few funerals and I have a thick skin.

The eulogy this morning—for the 96-year-old dad, granddad, and great granddad—was different. It was given by a son of the deceased, who began, “My father was the most honorable man I have ever known.” From there on he kept it short and on point. One other line I remember only: “My father was an extraordinary man who lived an ordinary life.”

So I have revised my wishes again about the age at which I want to die. Now, let me say for the record, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that, before that time comes, I become that father. 

I don’t know, maybe the guy with the line around the building was that father too. What matters is the Father not the line.

1 comment:

  1. I never have served at a funeral, but I have attended many many. Mostly friends' parents, or grandparents; sometimes friends'. My children have been to many funerals, too. I like going in the sense that it is an opportunity to both pray for the dead, AND to reflect on one's own journey. I am always surprised to hear people say they've never been to a funeral, or that they keep their children away from them. It;s like we are afraid to confront the reality of our own death and the death of loved ones.

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