The commemoration of All Saints on November 1st draws a lot of attention, as would be expected, it being a Solemnity and all. The commemoration of November 2nd lives in the shadow of its big brother, and yet it is the conjoined twin, so to speak, in the celebration of the communion of saints. On November 2nd we commemorate the Church Suffering, and the day is called All Souls.
In our culture we sometimes talk about death, but seldom our own. Comedian Tim Hawkins half-seriously claims that trauma has been inflicted on generations by the old children’s prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should DIE before I wake….
What kind of sicko, he’s asking, sends small children to bed with a prayer like that? Actually, our ancestors lived a lot closer to death – we moderns are cocooned in bubblewrap. They thought it appropriate to teach their children that mortal men must leave their fate in the hands of God, and rest easy. The whole “memento mori” genre of art attests to that. Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return is a very Biblical concept.
Our priest broached the subject of our own death at a weekday Mass last November. He informed us that the parish office has forms we can fill out explaining how we would like our funeral to be conducted, and he urged us to take advantage of this. I don’t know how many folks took him up on it – as I said, we’re not too comfortable thinking about that subject. And what he was talking about were the aesthetic details of the funeral, such as the choice of hymns. Not that I don’t care what’s sung at my final appearance (if they start singing “When The Roll is Called Up Yonder,” I swear I’m getting up and I’m leaving!), but there are other aspects of the memorial service that are far more important to me than that. If allowed to micromanage my own funeral, I would have 4 main points that I would insist upon:
– I want it to be stated loud and clear that I am NOT in Heaven – YET! By the grace of God, I hope to die in God’s friendship, that is, in a state of grace. But the Church takes Hebrews 12:14 and Matthew 5:8 very seriously. God is at work in the Christian, making him or her like Jesus. This is not an idle pastime – it is a necessary change that must take place to fit us for Heaven. If, despite all that God sends, we are not made holy in this lifetime, we will be after death. Everyone at my funeral will, I presume, be someone who knew me, so they should be able to tell you from personal experience that I died in need of further purification. Don’t argue with the dearly departed, folks – I didn’t go straight to Heaven. But I hope, with the assistance of your prayers, to get there very soon!
– I want the priest to preach a fiery sermon. Now, I realize that that kind of thing is generally frowned upon at a funeral, but I want one of the readings to be Philippians 2:1-13, and I would like the priest to challenge the assembled to please, please take the Scripture reading seriously. Please don’t take your salvation as a given. Please do not be arrogant, but be afraid!
Ask God to help you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling! If you’re kind enough to accompany me to the graveyard, I pray I will have the honor of welcoming you into Heaven one day!
– Since most of the folks at my funeral will probably be Protestant, I want to make very clear my answer to the oft-posed Evangelical question, “If you were to die tonight, and God asked you why He should let you into Heaven, what would you say?” My answer would be to shamelessly steal the famous answer of the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux:
In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!
Believe me, assuming entrance into Heaven were based upon the correct response to that Protestant question – if St. Thérèse’s answer didn’t get me in, nothing would…..
– And lastly, I want conversions. I am praying that many unbelievers will be converted at my funeral, and that many Christians will have their hearts turned back to God. Conversion is never man’s doing – it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is always a miracle. So on that day when the bell tolls for me, I pray God that it will be the occasion of many miracles.
On the commemoration of all the Faithful Departed
Deo omnis gloria!
Postscript: I pray that the homily preached at my funeral will be at least as good as this one by Msgr. Pope.
Photo credits: Viewing casket, Museum of Funeral Customs, Springfield, Illinois, 2006, by