It is often said that the two greatest opportunities for evangelization are weddings and funerals – the two times when non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics find themselves in a pew. There’s a lot of pressure on the priest and anybody in ministry to make their experience welcoming while celebrating the corresponding rites. Moreso when the event is televised to the general public, and as such there is pressure to water down the faith to make it palatable. I’m always impressed when the priest chooses to evade political correctness and ensure there is no compromise to the integrity of the Faith at the liturgy.
Such was the case at Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral, which was celebrated in the National Basilica by his son, Fr. Paul Scalia. Fr. Scalia’s homily was sweet without being saccharine, and effusive without hagiography. I hope my Funeral homily will be like this, as should every Catholic’s.
The best honour that can be extended to a deceased member of the faith is to pray for them. Fr. Paul explains:
We pray for the repose of his soul. We thank God for his goodness to Dad, as is right and just. But we also know that, although Dad believed, he did so imperfectly, like the rest of us. He tried to love God and neighbor but, like the rest of us, did so imperfectly. He was a practicing Catholic—practicing in the sense that he hadn’t perfected it yet. Or, rather, that Christ was not yet perfected in him. And only those in whom Christ is brought to perfection can enter Heaven. We are here then, to lend our prayers to that perfecting, to that final work of God’s grace, in freeing Dad from every encumbrance of sin.
But don’t take my word for it. Dad himself—not surprisingly—had something to say on the matter. Writing years ago to a Presbyterian minister whose funeral service he admired, he summarized quite nicely the pitfalls of funerals (and why he didn’t like eulogies). He wrote, “Even when the deceased was an admirable person—indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person—praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thank for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.” Now, he would not have exempted himself from that.
With so much interest in the funeral, the secular press had no choice but to widely publish this impressive summary of the Catholic belief in Purgatory (without explicit mention of it) and praying for the dead, and that of the efficacy of the Mass. A funeral mass is the start of a string of prayers for those being perfected and prepared for heaven. It is also a reminder to us of our eternal destiny. I heard the story one time of a man who put on his gravestone a message to anybody who would walk by to have a mass said for him. We should remember to pray for the dead, and include in our prayers those who have no one to pray for them.
Lent is a time to reflect on our own mortality. It’s nice to always have our affairs in order so that people may think well of us, but as good as we might be at that, we should also make sure we’re set up so that people continue to PRAY for us after our passing. I sure hope that at my own funeral, the priest will encourage the translation of people’s esteem of me (or in spite of its lack) toward prayers for my eternal repose.
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