My Imaginary Funeral Homily | Mary Beth Bonacci | Ignatius Insight
I'm not in the casket in this scenario. I'm giving the homily. And I'm talking about the all-encompassing love of God
So I've spent the last two columns (which, at a rate of one column a month, covers a really long time) essentially writing about "what not to say" during a funeral homily.
Shortly after the last column was published, my uncle (well, technically my dad's cousin's husband, but really my uncle) died suddenly and very unexpectedly. And so I attended a really heartbreakingly sad family funeral. And while I was there, of course, I thought about everything I'd written over the past few months. Specifically, I thought "Well, Miss 'Pontificates in Her PJ's While Others Do the Really Hard Work of Giving Funeral Homilies', what would you say?"
After all, as a speaker, I can see where funeral homilies would be among the most difficult to write and to deliver. You're facing a grieving family and friends. Their grief is raw – and in some cases they're still in shock. Anybody with a heart would want to reach out and comfort these people. And certainly nobody would want to say anything that would upset them further or compound their grief.
So what would I tell them?
Of course, I don't claim that my way would be the "right" way. There could never be any one single "right" way to give a funeral homily. Anyone facing that task would bring his own unique gifts and perspectives to the pulpit. And some of those gifts are formidable. I've never heard any of the funeral homilies given by Bishop Fulton Sheen, but I would imagine they were amazing. Likewise the homilies of the great Fr. George Rutler in New York, and those of the countless other priests around the country and around the world who do a far, far better job than I could ever dream of doing.
Nevertheless, I thought if I'm going to stick my neck out, I should at least try to put myself in the shoes of someone preparing a homily under these most difficult of circumstances.
I concluded, first of all, that it's very difficult. Just ask my editors, who will confirm that this column arrived on their desks about two weeks late. I put this off from a very, very long time. But, in the end, here are my very generalized thoughts.
First, if I knew the deceased, I would speak personally about him or her. If I didn't, I'd keep my mouth shut and not pretend by reciting some impersonal biographical facts that telegraphed to everyone else that we'd never met.
Next, I would tell them why we were gathered – why we bother with a funeral Mass. It isn't just to say "good-bye" or to tell stories about our dearly departed. We could do that at a bar. We gather together at a funeral Mass to pray for our deceased loved one, to commend him or her to God.
Then, the most important part. I would talk about the awesome, tender, all-encompassing love that God has for each and every one of us. God is not some impersonal "Judge in the Sky" waiting to zap us for our sins. He is a Father who loves his children.
That's a hard concept for us to wrap our minds around, probably because it's become such a cliché. We all sang "Yes, Jesus Loves Me" along with "Now I Know My ABC's", and both seem to occupy the same space in our brains. God loves us. Whatever.
No, He really loves us. He yearns for us. Mother Teresa spoke of "the depths of His infinite longing to love and be loved" by us. Think of how you feel when you really love someone. You want good things for them. You want to be with them. You look forward to time spent together. You're disappointed – crushed – when this person ignores or forgets you.
And all of that love and emotion comes out of our little, limited human hearts. How much greater is the infinite "heart" of God? We can't even imagine the intensity of His love and longing for us.
That is the intensity of His love for our deceased loved one. As we sit at the funeral, contemplating our love for this person, God is right there beside us, loving him along with us. This, to me, is amazing. God joins us in loving our loved ones. Only His love is infinitely stronger than ours.
Yes, God gave us free will. We can choose to love Him in return, or not. He will never force us to choose Him. But He woos us, beckons us. He is the "Hound of Heaven," lovingly pursuing each and every one of us to the very end.
He wants to be with us. He wants to share eternity with us. He won't force it on anybody, but He will continue to invite, to woo, and to love.
God is perfect justice. He is also perfect mercy. We can't possibly understand how those two go together, but we don't have to. He does.
And so we entrust our deceased loved one to the God who loves him more than we ever could. We continue to pray for his soul. And we commit, in our own lives, to turning toward God -- to receive the love He offers us, and to choose Him in all things and in every situation.
We are all in very, very good hands.
This column originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on RealLove.net on February 10, 2008.
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What a Homily Should Be: Doctrinal, Liturgical, and Spiritual | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Purgatory: Service Shop for Heaven | Reverend Anthony Zimmerman
Hell and the Bible | Piers Paul Read
The Question of Hope | Peter Kreeft
The Brighter Side of Hell | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Socrates Meets Sartre: In Hell? | Peter Kreeft
Are God's Ways Fair? | Ralph Martin
The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Cross and The Holocaust | Regis Martin
Why Do We Exist? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
From Defeat to Victory: On the Question of Evil | Alice von Hildebrand
Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television programs, including several appearances on MTV.
Mary Beth has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award for Best Youth Curriculum.
Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.
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