The second funeral.
There I was, drained from yesterday’s funeral for Sherrie and last evening’s viewing for Aunt Adella: bright and early Saturday morning, walking into the church where my parents were married–where my father and his siblings, including Aunt Adella, had been baptized–hoping, praying that the morning’s mass would offer some comfort to my grief-ravaged family. I was accompanied by my mother’s brother who had been raised . . . well most likely without church at all by a mother who felt abandoned by God and turned from him–not to mention his abusive father. Uncle John is not very attracted to church, or God, or religion of any sort. He’s among my prayer concerns. So this Saturday among my prayers is that Uncle John might hear something that God would use to arouse faith in him.
I could not have been more let down.
First the ritual of the mass and the liturgy surrounding it that just hits me all wrong. But I’m a convert, so you probably could have guessed that. Aunt Adella’s closed coffin sat in the middle of the aisle, covered in parements, upon which the priest laid miscellaneous doo-dads throughout the service. Ok, doo-dads sounds irreverent. Let me try again. At various points the priest laid things on top of the coffin, including a simple wooden cross (not crucifix), a book from which he read the Gospel lesson. (It looked too thin to be a complete Bible, but I suppose it’s possible it was.) I believe it was after having spoken of Aunt Adella’s baptism that he sprinkled it with “holy water,” but that may be wishful remembering and it could have been in no way related to talk of baptism. At the end of the service the priest swung smoking incense around and over the casket. All that was pretty ookey, for me. But, frankly, not as ookey as Sherrie’s open casket during the funeral the day before. So, the casket and the ritual around it didn’t set me off too far right away.
But fear not, much ookeyness (ookiness? not really sure and for some reason my spell-check can’t seem to tell me) was to follow. In fact, oodles of ookeyness abounded throughout the day. Among the ookiest? Prayers that included pleas that the “saints would take Adella and present her to the Father.” Ok, so apparently the saints present the dead before the Father. I must have missed that page. Also, “May our prayers aid Adella in getting into heaven.” Yowza. No Amen from me on that one. In fact I spent the whole day listening to prayers and carefully choosing to which ones I would voice my assent, lest I commit some egregious sin, say idolatry or straight-out blasphemy. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, and maybe it’s just in my mainline circles where anyone tries, the Roman Church that Luther and Calvin and all the rest fought so hard against is still alive and well in many, many ways.
But really, these ookey things were not the worst of it all for me. Really. Afterall, I’ve already undergone my Reformation, I’ve studied enough and learned enough to know there’s a reason the Roman Church is no longer the church of the West. No, the worst part of the day is where the rubber of the Roman Catholic theology met the road of my grieving family. And squashed them flat. Rather, took their flattened bodies and miserably failed to serve God in breathing life into them. It just left them there. Flattened and hopeless.
The tragedy, for me, began after the usual liturgy stuff–the psalter, the epistle, the Gospel reading. It came during the priest’s homily. It was at this point that things began to truly sadden me, even anger me. The man had absolutely no presence. This was the case throughout the entirety of the ritualized parts of the liturgy, but remained during the homily, the one part of the service that was context-specific. The rest of the liturgy could have taken place on any given Sunday, as is the Catholic liturgical way. So, with the homily I’m thinking, here’s your chance, priest: talk to this family, bring them the Gospel, bring them the assurances of faith they so desperately need. What do we get? Hmmm . . . seeing that it’s been several weeks now, I might just lay out some highlights as they come to mind:
Um. First, priest shares how on his recent vacation he began to read To Kill a Mockingbird–never having read it before as no one had ever made him do so. Returning from his vacation with the book only partially completed, he shared with a young altar server (aka, altar boy), what he was reading and the lad was kind enough to give away the end of the story. Ok. So far I’m scratching my head and saying “Why?! Why oh why are you sharing this little tale? Why at a funeral?!”
Ohhh. He brings on home this illustration: my grandparents, when baptizing Aunt Adella, did so knowing how her story would end: she would die. Because everyone dies. “I didn’t think my mom would ever die, such a saint she was, but of course the day came when she did indeed die.” “I too will die someday, though hopefully at not so young an age as 56 (the age at which Aunt Adella died).” Seriously? They pay you to say this stuff?
—–Ya know what? I’m being hyper-critical of this priest’s pastoral capabilities. This goes beyond the theology of the day. But you know what else? I’m a trained pastor and a pastor’s wife with 10 1/2 years experience. I know of what I speak. And I speak of . . . er . . . bad, bad pastoral care. Anyway . . . just wanted to put that little reminder in there. That I’m trained in the art and ministry of funeral preaching. I’m no amateur looking at this.—–
Ok, so on we go with the priest’s main points. . . . So, Adella was baptized, great. And she–like everyone must–has died. And now she’s at peace and at rest. So that’s the end of the story. But in between the baptism and the end of the story, she has clearly lived a story, a life, that has touched the lives of others–there are 100 people here today who have been touched by Adella. I myself hope I can go to heaven and meet her some day.
Huh? “I hope I can go to heaven?” Is that what he just said? I’m not even giving an accurate quote there. Because the way I wrote it, it looks like it can mean he hopes he can get to meet my Aunt Adella when he gets to heaven, like there are going to be so many people he couldn’t possibly meet everyone. But that’s not really what he said–and my sister, who was sitting on the other side of the church, concurred with my assessment. What he said and meant was that he hoped he would make it to heaven. Hoped. Hoped, as in “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow because we’re supposed to have that picnic.” That’s how this priest, this man who has committed his entire life to the service of the Gospel–such is the claim of his vocation, anyway–this priest hopes he gets to heaven. OK then.
To be fair, prior to this he had said if Aunt Adella’s death, if anyone’s death, is the end of the story, then we are a people most to be pitted. To that I said, AMEN! Preach Paul! Finally! But that was before the wishy washy words of wishful thinking with regard to our heavenly destination.
This is not Christian hope.