"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Funeral Sermon designed to teach on the Last Things, and inspire prayer

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

On yesterday’s blog post, I discussed some of the more common problems that arise with funerals these days. That blog post provides the kind of background to the homily I present here. In this homily, I try to teach on what I think are important and central themes that need emphasis in Christian funerals today.

The homily is broken into three parts:
  1. The Praise of the divine goodness of our God. For at every liturgy, funerals included, the first and primary work is the praise and worship of Almighty God, who has been good to us, and through faith has saved us. Here too, it is appropriate for us to render praise and thanks for the gifts that the deceased had from God, and to properly acknowledge with respect, some aspects of their life
  2. Prayers for the deceased. For too often, on account of Universalism, a notion that all are saved in quite instantly, such that that prayers for the deceased, and for all the dead, are often neglected, and the dead are inappropriately promoted to Heaven instantly.
  3. Preparation for death – for many today are not properly preparing for death and do not live as though they must one day render an account to God and are destined to be judged under the law of freedom.

No homily I have ever preached is perfect. And thus, neither is this one. It is merely my own poor attempt to teach more fully on many truths regarding death, judgment, heaven and hell, that are too often neglected in funeral masses today. Having been asked to record and present a funeral sermon of mine in writing, I herewith try to fulfill the request.

The sermon presented here is a sermon I preached for James Cade and I both recorded it and have it in writing here, verbatim from the preached homily. I share it with you by permission of the family.

I am not known for short sermons, and this sermon is no exception. Nevertheless, if you have the patience to listen, or read here it is.

The audio recording of the sermon which runs approximately 20 minutes is available below in the video box.

Introduction - So, Joan, Robert, and Joseph, and all of us who are here, for our brother James (Cade): I first of all share with you condolences at his passing. I know he had a battle with cancer. I know how he fought to live, he certainly wanted to see his son’s (Joseph’s) wedding, and thanks be to God, that took place. And I know all that Robert was saying to me about he great love for all of you, unto the very end…. and the kiss goodbye. A beautiful sign of his love for you (Joan) and his family.

I. Praise of Divine Goodness - We come to gather in this church today, and the first thing I hope you came to do is that you came to praise the Lord, and that you’ve come to worship God. I think sometimes when we come to a funeral, our first instinct is to think, well I’ve come to pay my respect (to James), I’ve come to honor and support the family. And that’s all good, beautiful. But our first instinct in walking into God’s House, is always to give worship, (ascribe) glory, praise, and thanksgiving to God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift.

And there’s a lot to be grateful for, yes, even at a funeral. All of you have in your mind some things that James Cade was to you, gifts that gave to you, words of encouragement, support, the gift of life…Whatever it might be, you all have memories, and you’re grateful! But remember, as Scripture says, Every good and perfect gift, comes from above, comes from the Father of Lights, in whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17)

I certainly know, and here we are on Veterans Day, that this country owes a debt of gratitude to our brother, who served for over twenty years in the Armed forces, in the United States Air Force. You know…We often need to remember that those who serve in the military….are peacemakers. Scripture says, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matt 5:9). Because, you see, they put their life on the line to make those who would disturb the peace or those who would rob us of justice, think twice. And as such, they preserve the peace in this way. Scripture also says, Greater love hath no one than he would lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13) And all those who serve in the military, including our brother James, put their life on the line so that you and I can live in greater security, freedom and peace. And we all know that our military doesn’t just protect this country, they go all over the world (and I know, not without some controversy), but they go there, they obey their orders and take care of the people in each region.

And so all of us bring blessings and memories of James, all that he was to us, all he was to this country, to his community, to his life of service, overseas, as well as here, his love for God, his love for family, over forty years of faithful marriage. Oh, what a witness that is today…such an important witness!

So, I say all this to you, that I know we all bring with us many great memories, many thoughts of gratitude for our brother, and all that he was, and is for us,.

But I also hope you will remember that, whatever James had to offer, he got it from God. So we are here today to say, “Thank you Lord. We worship you, we praise you, and we thank you. You are the giver of every good and perfect gift. It all comes from you! So everything our brother James was, it came from you. Thank you Father, we love you, we worship you, we praise you through your Son Jesus.

We thank you Jesus for dying for our brother. For the greatest truth I have to say to you all today about our brother James is no good work of his, but simply this, that Jesus Christ loves our brother, died for our him, went to heaven to prepare a place for him. As he said (I the gospel today) to Martha, regarding her brother, now he says to us, Your brother will rise…I am the Resurrection and the Life, and whoever believes in me (and our brother James believed in him) will rise!”

And so, we’ve come today to praise the Lord.

And I want to say this, Even our brother’s sufferings at the end of his life, are something worth praising and thanking God for; and (also) whatever sufferings you’re enduring. You know, scripture says, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians in the fourth Chapter, St Paul says this: Therefore, we not discouraged. Although our outer self (our body) is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed, day-by-day. For this momentary affliction is producing fro us a weight of glory beyond all compare. (2 Cor 4:16-17) So that even at the end of his life as James suffered with cancer and the effects of surgery, I tell you brothers and sisters, even then, it was a gift in a strange package!

Scripture says, in Romans 8:28, All things work together for good, to them that love and trust the Lord and are called according to his purposes. Notice it says, ALL things, not just the good things…but even the difficult and the painful things work for our glory, if we give them to God, as our brother did. I say this to you again, whatever sufferings he endured, they produced glory. Again, St. Paul says,This momentary afflicting is producing a weight of glory beyond compare.

And so, if you brought any suffering into this Church, be it the sorrow of this day or whatever other sufferings are going on in your life right now…you know, the devil wants you to be discouraged. You just tell the devil, “I’m encouraged! And I’m gonna praise the Lord anyhow! Because whatever I am going through, it is producing a glory for me beyond any comparison to the suffering I must endure. I am not discouraged, I’m encouraged. Because whatever I’m going through, its producing!”

So today, first I say, I hope and pray that you came to praise the Lord. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him! And we’ve come to praise him.

II. Prayers for the Deceased - I also hope, today, You came to pray for our bother, James. I think, a lot of times in Christian funerals we miss a step, at least in these modern days. Very often when we hear that some one has passed, we hear statements that they are now in heaven, or they’re in a better place…or other euphemisms. But, we need to be careful, and not miss a step.

The Bible does not teach that you die and go straight to heaven. Rather, it says there’s a little pit stop on the way. The book of Hebrews says, It is appointed to us to die once, and thereafter the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) Likewise, St. Paul says, We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and render an account for what we have done, whether good, or evil, and receive recompense or punishment for what we have done.” (2 Cor 5:10)

And so it is, then, all of us need to remember that when anyone dies, their first destination is the great judgment seat of Christ. And brothers and sisters, that is worth praying about! I’m just going to say to you, I’m not planning to die today, but if I do, would you please pray for me! Because I go to judgment. I go to render an account. And I am a believer, I love Jesus Christ, and I know he loves me, I know he died for me. But I need to go and have an honest conversation with the Lord. And I would ask you to pray for me. I know then that our brother James both wants and needs our prayers. As he himself has gone to that judgment seat.

But what is then the judgment in question for a believer? Does not the Lord say, as we just heard in the gospel, “If you believe I will raise you up on the last day” ? So what is the judgment in question?

I would say this, It is based on a promise the Lord made to our brother and to all of us, at our baptism. It is at the end of the 5th Chapter of Matthew’s gospel: And the Lord says this, You must be perfect as the Heavenly father is perfect. (Matt 5:48) Hmm…Anyone there yet?! Alright church, me neither!

Now I want to say, though it may sound like a threat, its not a threat. It’s a promise! The Lord says, “When I have fully accomplished my work in you, when my grace has had its full effect, you will be perfect. And not just humanly perfect. But with a Godly perfection!

The Lord St. Catherine of Siena, “Catherine, I you were ever to see a soul up here with me in glory and perfected, you’d fall down and worship, because you’d think you were looking at me.” Do you see? That’s our dignity. One day we shall share a perfection that is the perfection of God himself.

Now then, here is the judgment in question: If I were to die today I would go to the Lord and I would simply know that (perfection) isn’t done yet, there’s still a few things to accomplish. And so I would go, and I’m sure the Lord would show me some things that still needed to be completed. And so I think the judgment in question for our brother James is, “James, is my work in you accomplished?” St. Paul wrote to the Philippians and he said, May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion. (Phil 1:6)

So, I think the judgment in question at that great Judgment seat is, Is the Lord’s work in you complete? What remains undone? Now, says the Lord, I will bring it to completion. And how exactly the Lord does that, I can’t say. Does it happen quickly…does it take time? I don’t even know if there is time like we have it now after we die.

All I know is that we are commissioned by the Church, and by Sacred Scripture to pray for those who have died, to lift them up in prayer. We ought to pray for the dead, they go to the judgment seat. And there they have that conversation with Christ, and whatever is incomplete, must be completed, for Jesus who loves us will leave nothing incomplete. He will accomplish the promises he gave to our brother, and make him perfect. And we for our part, give him to Jesus and say “Jesus, we love our brother James, we love him. We entrust him now to your care.

And I think this too, that it isn’t just about our sins. You know, honestly, is there anyone here carrying stuff with us we know we can’t take to heaven? I’m not just talking about our sins, I’m talking about our heartaches, our hurts, some of those regrets we might carry with us. We can’t take those things to heaven, it wouldn’t be heaven! And so there is a beautiful line in the Book of Revelation that says of Jesus, regarding the death, that He will wipe every tear from their eyes. (cf Rev 21:4) And this is part of what we call in the Catholic tradition the process of purgation. The Lord wipes the tears form our eyes: any sorrows, any regrets, any rough edges of our personality, those effects of sin that still cling to us. The Lord takes good care of it all…he wipes the tears and purifies us with holy fire.

Now whatever James brought to the judgment seat, if he had any tears still in his eyes, that’s between him and Jesus. But we pray, and we say thank you Jesus, Thank you Lord. We give you back our brother, whom you gave to us. We give him back with love and prayers, we call upon your mercy and judgment and ask you to bring to completion anything that was incomplete. And we do this, knowing by faith that the Lord is rich in mercy. And so we have good hope and good confidence, as we make that prayer.

III. Preparation for Death - I want to say one final thing today. I asked you to make sure that you came to this Church to praise the Lord and pray for our brother. I am also going to ask you to pray for yourself. And to ask you, are you prepared?

Now please know that I do this at every funeral. I call it the “Come to Jesus” talk. Because I often meet people at funerals that I never meet anywhere else. Now I don’t know everyone’s walk and where they are in their walk.

But I just want to say this to you, it’s a very powerful truth, and our brother is teaching us even now, and the Lord is teaching us. And I’m not going to dress it up in any way. I ‘m just going to say it plain:

You are going to die….(yes) you are going to die. And you don’t get to say when. (Ah but you might say), I’m planning to live a good number of years preacher….I’ve got it all figured out. Listen! I can’t promise you the next beat of your heart! I did check with Father J. before Mass, he did say the roof is in good condition and it probably won’t crash in during the funeral. But, I can’t promise you anything. I can’t promise you that you’ll see this day out. Someone says, “I’ll take care of that tomorrow.” But, tomorrow is not promised.

And I’m just going to say that I hope and pray that every one of you here have given your life to Jesus. …that you’re repenting of your sins…that you’re serious about your preparation for your own death, and your appointment at the judgment seat of Christ.

And if you don’t need to hear what I am saying, I know you know fifty people who do. There are just too many people today who are not serious about their spiritual walk. They’re running around like life was some big game, they’re not thinking about their destiny to appear before the judgment seat. They are not praying, they are not reading Scripture, they are not growing in their faith, they are not getting to church on Sunday, any many of them are stubbornly locked in very serious and unrepented mortal sin. And they are not going to be ready! I pray that is not true of any one here, but if it is, I simply say, “Turn to Jesus…repent, give him your life.”

Pray every day. Some folks tell me its hard to pray….I don’t know how to pray! You know what you’re doing? You’re already praying! Don’t tell me, tell God. If that’s where you’ve got to begin with your prayer, tell him: “I don’t like to pray, I struggle to pray, prayer is boring” What ever you need to tell him. Prayer is not reading words somebody else wrote that you don’t mean. Prayer is talking to the Lord and telling him what’s going on in your life. Prayer is paying attention to God.

I hope you read Scripture every day and study the teachings of the Church. Brothers and sisters, there is too much stinking thinking out there for us to think that our minds will be anything but polluted if we don’t cleanse them every day with God’s word and the teachings of the Faith. Some folks say its hard to understand Scripture, “I can’t figure all that our preacher.” But there are so many helps available, “My Daily Bread,” “Magnificat” magazine. Some folks even get the Word sent to their cell phone each day with a commentary. You say, “I can’t figure all that out.” Well, then get a fifth grader to help you (set it up), but get with God’s word every day! We find time for everything else.

And I say to you, get to Church every Sunday. I hope you all have a church home, I hope every one of you is in God’s house on Sunday. God is worthy of our praise. For us not to praise him is an egregious lack of gratitude on our part. But also, we all need to come to God’s house so that we can be instructed, and then fed with the Body and the Blood of the Lord. Jesus says, If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53). Some folks say, “Oh, I see the Mass on TV.” But you can’t get Holy Communion on TV. And you can’t get real fellowship. Find a parish, if you don’t have a church home, and get there, get to Mass. Receive Communion every Sunday. Be firm and clear about it. God puts it in the Ten Commandments saying, “Keep holy the Sabbath.” He knows we need it!

And I say to you, If you are aware of any serious or unrepented mortal sin in your life, I beg you, repent and call on the Lord’s mercy. Some folks tell me, “I’m in such a mess I don’t know how to get out of it.” OK, but go to the Lord and talk to him about it and say, “Help me Lord!” But please, do not go on calling “good,” or “no big deal” what God calls sin! The Lord says, No one who calls on me will I ever reject. (Jn 6:37)

But too many people today say, “I will not be told what to do. I will not be told what is right and wrong.” The one thing God can’t really save us from is that kind of pride…because we don’t want to be forgiven. And so again I say to you, (and I hope no one here needs to hear what I said, but then tell some who does), but I say to you, be urgent about it.

You know, no one loves you more than Jesus Christ, and yet no one warned about judgment and Hell more than Jesus Christ. People are dismissive about judgment and hell today, “Oh Jesus would never do that.” But Jesus told us over and over again, that there is a judgment in question and its not so much about what he decides, it is about what we decide. He says this, Here is the judgment in question, that the Light has come into the world, but many prefer the darkness, because their deeds are sinful. (Jn 3:18). So there is a judgment coming, and the Lord warns in parable after parable, And I simply ask you to be ready.

I know many of you to be solid and strong in your faith. Thanks be to God for that, that’s his Grace. But if anyone here needs to hear it, please listen! As an ambassador for Christ I cry out, “Be reconciled with God!”

Summation - So today, we’ve come (and I’m not known for short sermons, sorry), but we’ve come today, first of all to praise the Lord. Thank you Lord, for our brother, James Cade, thank you for all he did, thank you for all he was and still is. Thank you Lord. We praise you. You’re the giver of every good and perfect gift.

And we also prayer for our brother and say, “receive him now, Lord, receive him into your mercy. And if there are any struggles or sins he brought with him to the judgment seat, Lord purify him, cleanse him of that, wipe every tear from his eyes. We give him to you Jesus and we know you’ll be good to him since he had faith in you.

And for ourselves, we say, time to get ready, I’m going to die and I don’t get to say when. Do I need to repent, do I need to pray, do I need to prepare more, do I need to be more serious? Please Lord, help me to get ready.

The greatest way to honor our brother is to imitate his example and get ready to meet Jesus. The very last food that our brother received was the Eucharist. We call this in the Catholic tradition, viaticum, meaning, I (the Lord) am with you on your way (via tecum). Our brother did not leave this world on his own. He went with his guardian angel, but Jesus led him with that viaticum, led with across the valley of the shadow of death with His rod and staff to give him courage. He (James) went with the prayers of Mary and all the saints, and the angels to lead him toward paradise. The Lord has had that honest conversation with him we call judgment.

And we simply say, Lord thank you, thank you for your love for our brother. Take good care of him now Lord. We pray for him, and we ourselves keep watch over our own souls. Amen.

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