Reflection: More Sayings We Live to Regret
by Father Don Thomas
Scenario Number One—A Catholic Dies and Decisions About Burial Arise
"Let's just take the body from the Funeral Home to the cemetery, and we can skip the church, saving time and money.” Here we are talking about Catholics only. Please note that! About Catholics only. Let me strongly emphasize that this does not involve sin or no sin. So, do not be worried about the past. In the future, hopefully, maybe some Catholics will think seriously before they act in making such an important decision about Christian burial for Catholic relatives and friends.
What is sad but very true in these situations is the fact that many times the decisions about Christian burial are made by some of the family members who no longer go to church or practice their religion. Out of shame, anger or embarrassment, they do not want the priest around at all because they think he might start asking too many questions. This fear is so ridiculous because a priest is trained better than that, and his principal interest is to extend sympathy and prayerful support to those left behind. Having a Mass offered for the repose of the departed soul is also intended to be a source of spiritual strength for the family and loved ones. Money has nothing to do with it, and if nothing at all is given to the church, nothing at all would be said about it. The offering, if one is given, is simply an expression of gratitude for services rendered, Now, let us comment on the good that can come from having the funeral service in church with a Mass.
Very often it can happen in any family, and I am including the best of families, that some people are very good about going to church and practicing their religion faithfully, while others may get away from church for a while or for a long period of time. This does not mean that they are bad people. In talking about Catholics, I must state that if they are knowingly and deliberately not attending Mass when they are able to, they are still important and beautiful in the eyes of God and the church, but they are wrong for not living up to their obligations with respect to Mass. As a priest, I can tell you that there are large numbers of Catholics who do not attend church, except for Christmas, Easter, weddings and funerals. In taking the deceased to the church, God can use the occasion, and God can use the deceased as well as the priest as instruments to touch the minds and souls or people who are present.
It may be a simple question in the homily, a question like "are you at this moment, as we honor our departed relative or friend, are you ready to meet your Creator and Judge if He were to call you home today?” That moment of grace can change a person's life around completely, and when we skip the church, very often those actual graces are missed as well.
In conclusion, I would like to state that "getting buried in the church or not getting buried in the church" has nothing to do with one's salvation or damnation. If a person dies on Monday morning and gets buried on Thursday, the soul returns to God on Monday, immediately after death. The Particular Judgment takes place right after death as we learn from sacred scripture. Getting buried a few days later, in or out of the church, does not affect one's salvation. It is a beautiful thought, however, for a Catholic family to know that the loved one's last home to visit was the church---God's House. It is there that the Holy Mass is celebrated, the Mass of the Resurrection. Loved ones offer up the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass as the most special gift we could offer to God, our heavenly Father. In return, we ask for a merciful judgment and life eternal for our loved one.
Scenario Number Two—Husband is Going to Church Just for Christmas or Easter—Deciding to go once or twice a year!
Another thing not to say or kid about: When special days like Christmas or Easter come around, do not fool around by saying something like: "You're going to church! Oh my God, I can't believe it. What good is that going to do? The Pastor will have a heart attack; or do you want the roof to cave in?”
Let me share some thoughts as to why it can turn out to be a big mistake to joke about things like this. First of all, I would like to give to the people who fool around or kid like this the benefit of the doubt and say that I think they are usually very good and well-intentioned individuals. I think they actually are so happy and surprised in these situations that, without thinking, they proceed to make their remarks without even thinking there could be negative consequences. They certainly would be thrilled to see the partner go to church, but, again they speak before they think, and because different people react differently in certain circumstances, they live to regret the "fooling around" when they see that the partner is embarrassed or feelings have been hurt and the person stays home.
Looking at this situation seriously, we have to realize that "going to church once a year" is better than not at all. God's actual graces can come from so many sources, and we have no idea that on this one occasion the priest goes out of his way to welcome not only non-Catholic who may be present, but also says a word of welcome and encouragement to those Catholics who have gotten away from church. In his little pep talk he points out how important and special these people are, and he goes on to suggest that their presence on this occasion would indicate that they do love God. By way of suggestion, he proceeds to invite them back next week, and then he recommends that they take one week at a time and give it a real try.
No long-range planning! Just one week at a time. It is truly amazing how many lives are turned around in these same situations. On the other hand, when we fool around with our jokes and wisecracks and are responsible for our partner's staying home instead of going "just this one time,” fantastic opportunities for conversion and church attendance on a regular basis are lost or squandered.
So, we have to be careful and once again try to realize how important it is "to think before we speak". Truly, the unspoken word can very often be more precious than the ones we just blurt out without thinking. Probably all of us could verify that fact from our personal experience.
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