I have always feared death. I’m not really sure why but I have. One of my very first memories is of my grandfather’s funeral. I remember my Tio Roy holding me and telling me to kiss my grandfather’s cheek in his coffin. I asked him in Spanish “Why is Apa sleeping in there?” I don’t remember what how he answered me but I remember leaning over from my uncle’s arms and kissing my grandfather’s face. It was cold and nothing like his cheek normally felt. I loved my grandfather. Everybody who met him did. He had the sweetest personality. I don’t have many memories of him; I was only 3 when he died, but the ones I do have are all of him being a walking saint. His death was my first experience with funerals and it has stuck with me all my life.
I have been to Catholic funerals and non-Catholic ones. It’s only since my conversion that I have begun to look at death and funerals differently. And it all began with Homer’s funeral. For those of you who don’t know who Homer is, let me tell you a little about him. Homer was my best friend. He worked with me at Club Baloo and I was NOT nice to him at all when he started there, but somehow he broke through my hard heart and became one of my favorite people. We worked together, laughed together, drank together. We spent most of our time together. He treated me like a sister and I loved him like a brother. He died in a car wreck on May 6th 2007. I had lost my aunt and grandmother, but the difference with Homer’s death was the giant HOLE that his absence left in my life. Everyday things were all so different with him gone. It took me months and months to quit texting him. I refused to get rid of my phone because it had a voicemail on it from him. I can’t even begin to explain the brokenness that his death brought into my life. BUT looking back I fully believe that his funeral was the beginning of my walk Home to the Catholic Church. Not that God caused his death for my sake, but God used it to step into my life. And boy, am I thankful, because I needed a wakeup call. Homer’s death was just that.
At the time I had no idea what the difference between Catholic funerals and other ones were. It was just a logistical detail as far as I was concerned. Isn’t it funny how we can walk around without a clue about a God who is so merciful that he became one of us and walked the Earth, died a horrible death and rose from that death? Yet I walked around is his Church and kneeled a thousand times during the Eucharist all while wondering how much time this was going to take out of my day without ever ONCE acknowledging the presence of that merciful and loving God. It makes me cry thinking about it. In His Mercy is continued to reach out to me, because Jesus doesn’t turn his back on anyone.
After Homer’s death I moved to Austin and the journey landed me in the Catholic Church. I still would have the worst meltdowns anytime I had had a few too many glasses of wine or whatever over Homer dying. I missed him. I missed him being in my life and that ache just would not go away. I would sob for him. I’d do it at the most inconvenient places too. Candie and Stacey earned a lot of points from dealing with me.
Something changed when I heard Noe’s teaching on the Communion of Saints while going through RCIA. I started realizing that Homer was 1.) Catholic and 2.) Not gone. I don’t know where he is, that is not on my shoulders to worry about. That is between him and God, BUT I can pray for him. That is when I started thinking about death as a beginning and not an end. Because up until then I thought of it as the opposite. What would get me is that we have all known someone who is not very well liked while they are alive, but then they die and all of a sudden they were the kindest sweetest person on Earth. We have all been there at a funeral like that and wondering how people can talk so nice about someone who they were just talking crap about 3 days before they died. Yes, part of it is respect for the death and realizing gifts of people after they are gone. But you can respect the dead without saying they were things that they weren’t. The way to do so is to pray for them. Whatever they are is not our burden to carry. If we pray for them and pray for the repose of their soul then we are not lying about them being something they aren’t. We are loving them the way that God calls us to do. It is an act of charity.
Homer was no Saint. I know that. Even now that I am soaking up everything Catholic that I can, I’m not a saint. I am trying to be one, but I’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s comforting to know that I can pray for those who I’ve lost and God hears me and if something happened to me that people would be praying for me as well.
Funerals are another topic. As Catholics the Mass is centered on Christ. Every Mass. Whether it be daily Mass, Sunday Mass, Wedding Mass, a funeral Mass or any other Mass you can think of it is centered on Jesus. There is an order to the Mass. Order is a sure sign of God. Disorder is a sure sign of something man-made. We went to a non-Catholic funeral a few days ago and I noticed the disorder of the whole thing. It was focused on the person who passed, the family left behind with some random scriptures thrown in for good measure. (Oh and some not so subtle jabs at Catholics) The preacher was trying hard to figure out how to describe the person that passed on and her place in the family. It all seemed like a show. At a Catholic funeral it doesn’t matter if the person presiding over the funeral knows the person who passed or not because the Mass is not centered on the person that passed, it’s centered around Jesus, like I said earlier The funniest line was at the end the preacher said “Lets go eat, there is just something about breaking bread that brings us closer to God and each other. I don’t know why that is but it is.” Stacey and I both looked at each other and I thought “We are so blessed to be Catholic”. We have over 2000 years of teachings on things. I’m not alone and I don’t have to start from scratch trying to figure these things out. What I wanted to do was yell out: DUH Breaking bread brings us close to God and each other! It’s called COMMUNION (common union, get it?) Which is why Jesus instituted the Eucharist and in the early Church it was called “The Breaking of the Bread”. But I kept my mouth shut.
I pray that Homer, My grandparents, my Tia Elma, Stacey’s mom, cousin Cathy and all others who have passed on will be there to greet us when we go Home. I no longer fear death. I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.