Today, when someone dies, the family more and more frequently chooses to not have a funeral, chooses no longer to pray for the deceased as that loved one meets God face to face, and if the family does do something to mark the passing of the deceased, they will have a secular “celebration of life” event, like meeting in a restaurant or a home and telling stories about the person who died.
Cremation is fast becoming the norm, and more frequently, sadly, there is no service or gathering of any kind.
Even the dying process, as difficult as that is, is being short-circuited by more and more family members’s leaving the dying person to be taken care of by some institution, drugged into non-awareness, and only visited by a few. As I attended dying people over 40 years I saw an increase of more and more attention to machines and numbers on the machines and less and less attention to the dying person. It has become rare to see someone talk to the dying person, whispering in his or her ear, telling of love and faith. And almost never do people gather around their dying loved one to pray.
As if the dying were not on their way to meet God, to encounter the judgment, and hopefully to be joined to God and the communion of saints.
It’s as if all that we believe about death, judgment, and the afterlife are simply no longer relevant.
Is it that we really do not believe what we profess in the Creed every Sunday? Or, is that so many family members no longer believe at all, and never recite the Creed?
Yes, it may be a societal-wide loss of faith. Or, it may be that we have become so accustomed to doing everything we can to avoid suffering, that when it comes, we simply cannot face it. As I have often heard from some family member at a deathbed, “Can’t we just get this over with?”
That’s a very human reaction, especially for one who is unfamiliar with the suffering, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and this mystery’s implications for us.
Today’s Scriptures call us to a very counter-cultural way of responding to suffering and death.
As people who say we believe in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, we care called to behave in a way that is different from those who do not believe.
So, when someone is dying, or suffering in any kind of way, we go to be with them, or if we can’t, then we do what we can. We certainly cannot raise them from the dead as Jesus raised Lazarus, but we can in one way or another be there with them and pray for them.
And when impatience takes over either the dying person, or the family members, we can remind them that even Lazarus’s best friend, Jesus, allowed him to suffer and die, only then to act when it seemed most impossible.
And, then, if we truly love the who has died, and if we truly love the Lord and believe in Him and in all of His promises, then what we do for a funeral will look very different from a secular "celebration of life." It will be a funeral Mass, in the parish church, with intense prayer for the deceased as they meet the Lord, and a joyful celebration that encourages all of us in the promise of eternal life.
Death is the most difficult thing all of us will face. Let us pray that we and our loved ones may have the grace of a happy death, meaning: let us pray that we may die in the state of grace, and if possible, be surrounded by our loved ones, but at least that we and our loved ones may die in peace. Amen.