Last Saturday, I accompanied my wife to the Funeral Mass of her 87-year-old uncle at a parish church in Garfield, N.J., not an uncommon experience for us these days as the older generation in our family passes away.
As funerals go, it was a well-attended morning Mass, with what appeared to be at least 100 mourners in the pews. Everything was executed flawlessly, from the music and readings to the priest’s homily, which brought me, and a lot of others, I’m sure, solace and comfort in a trying time.
The celebrant spoke only briefly about the deceased, really just a couple of sentences to which everyone could relate. I appreciated the nod to his sports fandom. The priest spent most of the homily, delivered without any notes, giving us a glimpse of the eternal.
From our vantage point, which is filled with daily squabbles, pettiness, conflicts near and far, and all manner of imperfections, it can be a stretch to even imagine. But the priest spoke so surely and simply that we all got a peek of that magnificent place of wonder and abundance called heaven, where we will be united with God for eternity.
Catholics should understand on a basic level that we are called to believe in and develop our relationship with the living Lord, who knows and loves each of us from the moment of our conception and through every part of our earthly life and into eternity. How can we do anything but try to return that love by following His Word closely?
And yet, we all know that our earthly condition puts obstacles, one after another, in our way. So we stumble and fall, and He picks us up again and again. He offers us chance after chance through the absolution of the sacrament of confession.
Our Catholic faith has the wisdom of the ages in its teachings and guidelines. First, we have to move the distractions of everyday life out of the way. That’s not a one-time job, but a lifetime mission. It does get (a little) easier over time.
I sometimes wonder why I don’t do a better job of it. Why I can’t seem to be more patient, kind, giving. I’m sure a lot of Catholics feel the same way. But that’s probably the wrong way of looking at things.
If we truly believe and practice what we say we do, how much better this world and our own world would be.
I know I am on the right track in one respect. I believe in a big God, an awesome God, who does great things. Some people try to put God in a box. Their conception of heaven is that it’s just like Earth, only up in the sky somewhere. That’s bringing God down to our size. What is the sense in that? I’m willing to live with the mystery a while longer, and content to believe that I’m going to be overwhelmingly joyful in God’s presence when I get there.
All of this seems like an appropriate topic for Advent, when we are waiting and preparing to celebrate the birth of our Saviour on Christmas. I hope you are blessed with a rich gift this holy season.