Homily by Father Mike Kuse
November 2, 2014 The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)
Reading I: Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm: 18: 23
Reading II: Romans 6:3-9
Gospel: John 6:37- 40 Jesus said to the crowds, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of the Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.”
When the children are baptized this morning they will have everything — everything that God wants them to have. Which means that they begin their sainthood and, as they live out their life he’s going to provide everything for them, step by step, until at some moment he is going to say, “I want to be with you forever because I love you.”
This morning I want to spend some time and take these two Feast days (All Saints and All Soul’s Day), and talk about something that will happen for all of us and is something that we are involved with periodically in our lives; and that is to take that last step when we are called home to be with God. I also want us to think about the whole ritual when that moment comes for us, or for someone else.
Some of you who are old enough will remember back beyond 40 years before we had the rite of new Christian burial. The burials in the Catholic faith were quite different than they are today. You came into church, the choir was up in the choir loft and usually the choir was a group of children from the school. When they brought the body into the church and down the aisle to the front, six large black candles were placed on both sides of the casket and lit. The whole Mass was in Latin. Back then, you had to fast from midnight so when it came time for communion, a lot of people, in all their excitement of burial, didn’t receive communion. When the Mass was over the body was taken.
At the visitation a rosary was said. At the burial ground people would gather for some prayers. That was normal. Then we didn’t know anything different.
If you forward into the late Sixties and the early Seventies, the whole church changed for us, including the ritual of a Christian burial. If you have been to a funeral recently you will notice it all begins with the baptism that the children are going to receive this morning.
Now we meet at the funeral home for a prayer service. The family, if they desire, can still say the Rosary — but the ritual of the church is the prayer service. When we arrive at church the choir is up here waiting. The body is brought into church and we process down the aisle with the body. We no longer use the black stands and candles. We welcome the body by sprinkling the body with blessed water, the very same symbol that will be used for the children this morning and was used for every one of us when we were baptized.
We then ask the family members to unfold a white pall over the casket. It is what the children are going to receive this morning in a different way — it’s like a scapular that is placed over the head of the child. The pall symbolizes that in this casket is someone who has reached the fullness of sainthood, and it began with his or her baptism. So, the entire casket is draped.
It doesn’t make any difference if your casket cost $15,000 or $1,500. The church says the most important thing is that this person was baptized and this is what we honor.
Obviously, since our Masses are in English, or any native tongue, the Funeral Mass is celebrated so that when you come to church for a funeral you understand everything — you just aren’t kneeling and listening to Latin.
When the funeral is completed we take the body from church, we go to the cemetery and we bury the body.
Another change that came in the Sixties is the Eulogy, and the Eulogy can be said at either the prayer service or the Funeral Mass. This is when a friend or family member will say a few words about the person’s faith. You could say, “I learned my faith from my grandfather who is being buried this morning. I remember that my grandpa said the Rosary. Grandpa was always good to people, and I want to be just like grandpa in my life.”
We want to know what it was about this person’s faith that is being passed on to the family.
Death is going to happen to all of us — for some it is as an infant, for others it is when they are many years along. But when it comes, it is supposed to be a moment of peace and calm knowing that God has forgiven me, and all I want now is to live out my baptism and be one with God.
I don’t know the whole background, but the other day I was visiting a lady at a nursing home and her friend was concerned that this lady had not been practicing her faith due to some circumstance. As I was getting ready to anoint her, I said, “You don’t have to worry. When she came into this nursing home she was anointed, and she has been receiving communion every week. And when God takes her home in a few days — she’s on the express to Heaven.”
We need to always know the power and the strength that God loves us, and that we are loveable and that he will forgive.
Something that is changing now, not only in the Catholic way of living but for all churches, is that people are free to be cremated. Maybe that is your desire, maybe it is not. The Catholic Church says you may be cremated but your ashes are to be placed in a sacred place, or a crematorium — they are not to be spread out over the Mississippi River where you used to go boat riding every Sunday. Or, you own a farm and have some horses and you think, “That’s where I was at peace and I want my ashes spread over the field. The Church says, “No. There is nothing wrong with that memory, but we are children of God and our cemeteries are places of honor.”
Also, when it comes to preparing for your funeral — when you are 19 or 20 you are not concerned about buying a cemetery plot and stones, and going to the funeral home and preplanning your funeral. But when you get to be 80, 90 or 95, if you don’t know it yet, you’re getting close. And it would be nice to sit down and say, “Maybe I should talk about this and decide how I want to leave this world.”
Sometimes people will go out to Calvary Cemetery and walk around, and they have seen my tombstone there. Someone once said to me, “Doesn’t that drive you up the wall to come out here and see your name and date on your tombstone?” And I say, “No, I’m planning on dying and this is where I’d like to be, so that is all that really matters.”
That person said, “I could never do that. I could not imagine going out to a cemetery and see my name on a stone.”
I answered, “Well, pray about it.”
Another person told me, “I’m going to be cremated because I’m just not going to spend all my money on a funeral.”
I said, “That’s your choice, but I’ll tell you one thing — whatever you have left and whoever you leave it to will have it spent within 24 hours after your buried, so you might think about what you want for your funeral. It doesn’t mean you need to have the most expensive casket, it just means you are preparing a funeral for yourself.”
When I was in Jacksonville I remember a gentleman who told me, “Father, I have everything planned and I am going to be buried from this church, Our Savior Church.” And I said, “That’s fantastic.”
It so happened when he died I was out of town at a meeting and when I came home I found out that he passed away and was buried. I asked if everything went OK.
I was told, yes, but his children came and said, “We are not paying any attention to what Dad wanted. He’s not being buried from the church.”
And I said, “How could they do that? That man lived for that to happen, it was so important to him, and he wanted to be buried from the church.” So that is something for all of us to think about.
If your parents are still living, if they have a wish, respect their wish. What we are finding out is that some people are no longer practicing their faith, so when the funeral comes around they don’t want to bring Mom or Dad into the church. So that’s their challenge, it’s not Mom or Dad’s challenge. What Mom and Dad have lived for, and wanted, they should be able to receive that from their own children, or grandchildren, or whoever is responsible to bury them.
These things, death and funerals, are so normal for us — but some people do not want to think about them. But it is healthy for us to talk about them. It’s not that we need to dwell on the topic, it’s just that we need to know that: “When death happens, I want everybody to be rejoicing in my life. I want them to remember the funny things that happened, I want them to remember how much I loved them, and I want them to remember that I gave them faith.”
That’s what it’s all about.
I want to close with an experience I had in Germany. I was on vacation. There were four of us and we decided to go into this church. We were dressed in T-shirts, sandals and shorts so we went in and looked around and sat down in the back pew. This was in the early Seventies, and all of a sudden people started coming in and we noticed everyone was dressed in black. We wondered, “Should we stay here? Or should we leave?”
But we decided to stay and thought, “This could be interesting. It’s going to be in a different language and a different place.”
The husbands and wives came in dressed in black suits and dresses. They came down the aisle and stood by the casket. On the table was a container of blessed water. They each took the water and blessed the body. Then the women went to one side of the church, the men went to the other side of the church.
Then a large number of men began to enter the sanctuary. They were all dressed in black and carried with them their instruments — this was the city orchestra. This man who died was a member of the orchestra and this was their tribute to him.
It was one of the most beautiful funerals I have ever attended. When the funeral was over, the orchestra led the family out of the church and all of us followed. The casket was carried from the church to the burial. We thought, “We don’t know where they are going but we may as well follow. Everybody is dressed in black and we are going along with flip-flops and shorts and T-shirts and we followed at the end of the line.
The parish cemetery was at the end of the street, and when we arrived the orchestra was positioned throughout and waiting for us. Everyone that was there gathered around and buried him. Then they dispersed for a meal. They were celebrating that man’s life, his gift for music and his family. He was a part of that faith community.
And that is what all of us should have. So I leave you with a question: When that moment comes, how would you like to have your life celebrated?
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.