April 27, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Funerals can demonstrate grace-filled lives

Cynthia DewesJust in case we forget what stage of life we are in, we are always reminded of it by the events that are occurring. When recess, trick or treating for Halloween and writing a wish letter to Santa are the big deals in our lives, we are probably in primary school.

When we are occupied with dressing up for the prom and getting a driver’s license, we are teenagers. And when we are filling out job applications and looking for our first apartments, we are most likely young adults starting our careers.

Now, my contemporaries and I have come to a period of life when we are receiving Social Security checks every month—I hope. We are thinking of selling the old homestead, and moving to an apartment or assisted living residence. You might think we would have a lot of time on our hands—except that our time is occupied with doctor appointments and funerals.

Now, the doctor appointments I wouldn’t mind doing without, but the funerals can often be instructive, moving, inspirational and, I hate to admit it, fun.

One such comes to mind when I think of Father Joseph Kern’s funeral. He was a much-loved priest in the Terre Haute Deanery, and his funeral was well attended by numerous priests, his extended family and many friends, including us.

It was like “Old Home Week” as we embraced the priests and other old friends we have known in several parishes over the years. It was a joyous occasion, and people sang out and prayed aloud with gusto because we all knew where Father was now—with his God. The fun part also included him wearing his familiar baseball cap with a cross on it during the service and on into his grave. It was truly a triumphant Christian event.

More recently, I attended the funeral of a 47-year-old man, a husband and father, who died after a long fight with cancer. Naturally, his funeral was well attended because at his age there were many people in his life who loved him and wished to show their respect.

This time, it certainly wasn’t fun, but it was a moving witness to Christian faith. His young wife, two adult sons and the minister all gave remarkable testimonials to his courage and the enrichment that he brought to their lives.

Reading about the recent funeral and great “send-off” for Benedictine Father Boniface Hardin was another inspiration to me even though we were unable to attend it. We were acquainted with Father Boniface from his occasional celebrations of Mass at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, and from meeting him at various other events, including his presentations as the black abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.

My favorite memory of Father is once when he was saying Mass, and after making a cogent point in his sermon he urged the congregation to, “Say Amen.” “Amen” came the puny response from the mostly white parishioners.

Father roared back, “SAY AMEN!” And we did! I’m sure there was a vigorous chorus of “Amen!” heard often during his funeral service, which was as instructive to those people present as it had been for us.

Sadly, some funerals are not inspirational or moving, and certainly not fun if the person being buried has few mourners and no apparent connections to family or friends or a church community. I think we should seek out such people before they pass if we can.

We all need the loving attention of others, which makes for a grace-filled life, so that one day, when it’s our funeral, the “Amen!”s will bring down the house.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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