It may shock you to hear this, but I like funerals.
Now, just bear with me for a minute. If you don’t know me well, let me tell you a little aboutmyself. I’m a father, a husband, a composer, musician, writer, director, liturgist, minister – celebrating now 30 years working for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (I’m also outrageously handsome). In addition to the countless masses, services, liturgies, weddings, baptisms, and other events, as you might imagine I’ve ministered at or attended so many funerals…I stopped counting after 1,000.
And I really like funerals.
No, I’m not nuts. Well, perhaps a little bit, but in a good way. See, while funerals are largely viewed as perhaps the most sad and wretchedly emotional time in people’s lives, they also are the ultimate celebration we have as humans! The funeral mass, the Rite of Christian Burial, is the powerful celebration of the absolute culmination of our life, our purpose. The race being won, the soul that once inhabited the tent that lays in that casket over there is now running in the vast playground of God’s loving arms. As heartbroken as we, those left behind, may feel, the true glory isn’t that the person we mourn in this life is dead… it’s that they’ve never been more alive!
They’ve never been more alive.
Let me tell you about something interesting I hear it at just about every single funeral for which I minister or attend. And if I were a betting man, I’d bet you’ve heard it as well. Shoot… you’ve probably said it. I have.
“Tell people you love them while they can still hear it.”
It’s an universal thing when people grieve, I think, that they want to help others not make the same mistakes they made, and so they offer suggestions like that one. It’s so well meaning, and I think so beautiful, and absolutely we must do it. We must. And if you’re at all like me, you’ll get sidetracked and time passes and don’t do it at all. We’re human, I guess.
“How many times must He call my name?”
That portion of lyric from the Praise & Worship song “I Will Choose Christ” by Tom Booth resonates with me deeply. It always has. It’s like the funeral-eulogizers… Over and over again, I hear it. “Tell them you love them…” “PAUL – I’m CALLING you….” One thing I don’t want is to regret my lack of reaching out to people before they die. I can’t get that time back, that’s for sure.
And still I sometimes forget (on purpose).
Today’s scripture lays it on the line. In no uncertain terms, the readings tell us to guard against all greed, and focus on what matters to God. In the First Reading, Qoheleth (the probable writer of this passage), says that working for purely wealth and possessions is not only foolish but results in sorrow, grief, and anxiety. Jesus echoes this in no small way as he describes the rich man in the Gospel parable who believes he has stored up enough possessions to guarantee a good life without worries – or so he thinks. See, any reliance on wealth and possessions is in vain, for both worldly possessions and this life are fleeting. What truly matters is that finale – our inheritance that only God can give – eternal life. What “matters to God” is letting go of things which hinder us from growing into the fullness of life, because we, as people of faith, know our ultimate goal, and we must focus on that, and share it the good news with others.
“Tonight your very soul will be demanded of you,” Luke writes in today’s Gospel. It’s true, “we know not the day, nor the hour,” and no matter what, we can’t take any of this world with us when we go. Sure, in this world we all need currency and possessions that aid us in living the life to which God has beckoned us, but we are called not to love a floor-wax or a car, but to love each other. We are asked to serve, and to walk, humbly, the path to Heaven.
And, friends, I don’t know about you, but no matter how many times I mess it up, I’m going to stand when I hear Him call my name, drop the things I hold so tightly, and run past “Go,” do not collect $200.
What is it that you need to let go of today? Let’s do it, together.
Dear God of all, thank you for the gift of Eternal Life. Grant us the grace to see you, to hear you, and to drop all that weighs us down, so we may know what it’s like to never be more alive. Amen.
Paul Puccinelli is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Rita Parish in Sierra Madre, CA, and a member of the Retreat-Team at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center.