The God we never
despite all He ever said
“Ego autem dico vobis …”
is often such a tremendous disparity between what we read in
the Gospels … and what we hear in homilies-as-conjectures
at Mass (“Now, this is what I think Christ is telling
us here …”) and what we read in the “deconstructed” literature of New
Age Catholicism. Things that Christ appears to state very clearly somehow
acquire a cognitive opacity such that what He appears to say
and what we are told He really means are often quite opposite,
or at least open to debate and can be construed quite otherwise.
Pride, appropriately enough,
often appears to motivate this effort. “How clever can I prove
myself to be”, a priest may ask himself, “in manipulating the words
of Christ to endorse a social or political agendum to which I personally
subscribe and that I wish to foster within the congregation — even
if it undermines or contradicts genuine Church teaching?”
Of even greater concern to
us is this: such gratuitous “hermeneutics” or personal interpretations
suggest a good deal more than the vanity or pride within those who utter
them. Something far greater is at risk, and it can be summarized as
The conflict in meaning that
we confront — the apparent and obvious meaning, and its “elucidation”
or deconstruction into meanings other than (and sometimes
even opposite to) the obvious, implies two extremely important and deeply
disturbing assumptions: On the one hand, either Christ does not
know what He is really saying, or, on the other, we are unable
to grasp what He is saying, despite its being perfectly clear to
us. In this case either Christ is a fool or we are fools. In our
presumably “unlearned” state, then, we need “professionals” to elucidate
the true meaning of anything that Christ utters, and this, of course,
takes many years of training and the accumulation of multiple academic
And this is to say that
much to Christ’s Heavenly Father’s consternation ... what Christ is saying
is actually “Hidden from the simple and unlearned, and
revealed only to the schooled and wise”. 1 And they, in turn,
will reveal it to us, given our pronounced inability to understand the
obvious. Take, for example, the following:
"Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the
gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there
are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way
that leadeth to life: and few there are that
find it!" (St. Mat. 7.13-14)
To those of us who are “unlearned”,
Christ seems to be saying — and very clearly — that the way to Hell
is easy and a lot of people end up going there; while,
on the other hand, the way to Heaven is difficult and not many
people make it.
Now, the clear and apparent
meaning, of course, makes life a good deal more difficult for us. After
all, many will go to Hell and few will go to Heaven —
if we take Christ at His word. Jesus warns us of this, or at
least appears to be warning us to take our lives on earth —
what we do and do not do — seriously, given what appears to be the
likelihood of Hell and the uncertainty of Heaven.
What are our options, then?
We can either,
Call Christ a liar to
Accuse Him of being
Or call into question
the veracity, the authenticity, of Sacred Scripture itself since
the obvious meaning does not accord with, is not amenable to, what
we ourselves would prefer to understand of God.
In fact, the god we
choose to fabricate and believe in, has inverted the matter
entirely: few or none go to Hell and many, if not all, go to Heaven.
Any funeral Mass will attest to this common, however deeply mistaken,
assumption. Our dead, we are assured, are already in Heaven smiling
benevolently down upon us, and playing basketball, surfing, or golfing
on endless courts, seas, or greens. Our priests tell
us this universally and our eulogists provide unique
glimpses into the beatitude of our deceased in Heaven (that
eulogies are strictly prohibited in the Catholic Church is quite
beside the point. We have them at every funeral Mass anyway
— no matter what the Church teaches. 2)
That some of them were cruel,
malicious, perverse, brutal, selfish, miserly, indifferent to God in
this life, or not believing in Him at all, has no bearing on the matter
of death and the circumstances of life beyond it. If the casket makes
it into the Church the dead shoot right up to Heaven … regardless of
what they have done or failed to do, saint and sinner alike. If “all
dogs go to Heaven”, then, a fortiori (that is to say, all
the more), so do men. All men. Good, bad, or indifferent.
The problem is that we cannot
in the same canon — that is to say, within Sacred Scripture — find
one reference to all men, good, bad, or indifferent, attaining
to salvation … which is to say, going to Heaven. Not one. In fact, Sacred
Scripture speaks of only one man — just one — who is assured of
Heaven: the thief on the Cross beside Christ, to whom Christ promised
Paradise the day of His own Crucifixion. Even Saint Paul worried!
but also not Despair!
But neither must we fall
into the sin of despair which is the diametric opposite of the sin of
presumption! Both are equally wrong and both are gravely sinful.
While it is true that many have lived a life deserving of Hell, no one
— not one — has lived a life deserving of Heaven. It is never
ones right to go to Heaven no matter how exemplary one s life
has been. If it is your right to go to Heaven, if you deserve Heaven
on your own merits, then you have emptied the Cross of the suffering
and death of Jesus Christ, and made His Resurrection unnecessary. Yet
we are told in no uncertain terms that,
"I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No
man cometh to the Father, but by Me."
John 14.6). Now, we must ask ourselves, what could Christ possibly
mean in uttering this? Let us debate this terribly abstruse utterance;
let us “deconstruct” it to see what He is really saying in this
very puzzling statement.
Until we begin to take Christ
at His word, and His word at face value, we may find a home in academia
or among the pseudo-literati; we may even have the congregation in stitches,
but it is unlikely that we will uncover the too-obvious Christ or walk
in the company of the Saints with Him when death ends the charade of
our pretension to misunderstanding what He said and why He said it.
Ego autem dico vobis
Are there things Christ said
about which we are genuinely unclear? Yes — but by and large they
are few. He speaks with authority, an authority that infuriates the
Pharisees because not only does He state the (Mosaic) Law, but of
Himself supersedes it lest there be any question whence the authority
derives. (from God Himself in His Only begotten Son Who is One with
the Father): “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love
thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you (Ego
autem dico vobis), Love your enemies: do good to them that hate
you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.”
5.43-44) The very clarity with which He speaks enraged “the scholars”
2000 years ago as much as it enrages our scholars today. There is little
room for equivocation — and interpreting the Law is, after
a living, an income, as much 2000 years ago as it is today.
Simplicity impedes this, obviates it altogether! What would so many
scholars possibly do if God spoke to us in a way that even the simple
understood? Of course, not to be outdone by the Son of the Living God
Who is the very Word of the Father, the scholars convince us that the
simple is altogether complex, and the greater its apparent simplicity
the greater its complexity — and our perplexity — and, for a sum,
they alone have the credentials to properly interpret what is so plainly
concealed from us in its beautiful simplicity.
When you go to Mass — that
is to say, to the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass —
listen to what Christ says to you plainly in the Gospel reading, no
matter how much it may be interpreted to mean something utterly different,
totally irrelevant and in the end merely tiresome and prosaic. He has
so much to tell you — Himself! "Qui habet aures audiendi audiat."
1 See St.
“At that time Jesus
answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and
earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent,
and hast revealed them to the little ones.”
2 At least one Church
in America, the Blessed Sacrament Church near Fort
Mitchell, KY, explains
this clearly in a note to their parishioners:
Either most Catholic Churches are clueless or their priests
in permitting this. The article appears in its entirety below.
"But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps,
when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway."
(1 Corinthians 9:27)
"With fear and trembling work
out your salvation." (Philippians 2:12)
has ears to hear, let him hear.” (St. Matthew 11.15)
Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal
Printable PDF Version
Eulogies Not Permitted at
The following is the series of articles that appeared
Blessed Sacrament's Sunday bulletin regarding eulogies at
NO EULOGIES AT FUNERALS Part 1
1989 the Vatican published the revised Order of Christian
Funerals (OCF) for the United States. The long-standing prohibition
of eulogies at Catholic funerals was again upheld and restated.
"A brief homily based on the readings should always be given at
the funeral liturgy, but never any kind of eulogy." [OCF #
141] In the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal
promulgated by John Paul II in year 2000 (GIRM 2000), this
prohibition of eulogies was again restated: "At the Funeral Mass
there should, as a rule, be a short homily, but never a eulogy of
The firm belief of the Catholic Church is that the Christian funeral
is not a celebration of the life of the person who has died, even
though we honor and express gratitude for all God's gifts to that
person. "The funeral liturgy is a celebration of salvation and
mercy, of grace and eternal life. It is not meant to be a
commemoration (much less a canonization) of the person who has died.
Extended remembering of the deceased often results in forgetting the
Lord." (Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk) While the presider is to keep
in mind with delicate sensitivity not only the identity of the
deceased and the circumstances of the death, but also the grief of
the bereaved, the focus of the Christian funeral rite is the saving
mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection. Attentive to the grief of
those present, the homilist should dwell on God's compassionate love
and on the Paschal Mystery of the Lord, as proclaimed in the
Scripture readings. (OCF 27).
If the Church prohibits eulogies at funerals, how is it that
we often have one, two, three or more speakers appear after
communion to deliver a five, ten, fifteen, up to thirty minute long
eulogy/eulogies??? Although what usually happens at funerals
is not at all what the Church envisions, the alleged justification
comes in a statement made in the Order of Christian Funerals: "A
member or a friend of the family may speak in remembrance of the
deceased before the final commendation begins." (OCF # 170) If such
a person does speak at all, the ritual envisions it happening
at the very end of the Mass while the priest and ministers are
already standing at the coffin about to begin the Final
Commendation. The words are to be very brief, highlighting an aspect
of the deceased's life of faith. In short, what often happens at the
end of the Funeral Mass is not what the Church permits. Even
here at Blessed Sacrament we give the family or friend very specific
guidelines about what is proper and how it is to be done. Our
experience, however, is that our guidance is rarely followed.
Next week I will again write some more about this issue. It is one
that is becoming increasingly problematic in the celebration of
Catholic funerals. It is an issue that causes me great concern here
at Blessed Sacrament and needs to be addressed.
NO EULOGIES Part 2
Last week I wrote about the
Catholic Church's long standing prohibition of eulogies at funerals.
The focus of the Catholic Funeral Mass is not on the life of the
deceased, but on the saving mercy of God that brings the deceased
into eternal life. I also noted last week that the current funeral
ritual of the Church does permit a family member or friend to say a
few words of remembrance at the funeral, but does not permit
that person to deliver a eulogy. What's the difference
between "a few words of remembrance" and a eulogy?
The guidelines that most parishes - Blessed Sacrament included -
provide to the families of the deceased explain the details of the
difference. Eulogies recount for the assembly some or all of the
great events of a person's life. Words of remembrance do not attempt
to give a biography of the deceased. As is the case with the entire
funeral liturgy, this is a time to share and emphasize faith.
Eulogies, by nature, tend to be lengthy discourses about the
deceased. Words of remembrance are brief - usually two to
three minutes. These brief words are meant to share one or two
examples of insight into the faith life of the deceased.
These words come at the end of the liturgy when people are
psychologically and spiritually prepared to bring things to a
conclusion. To prolong or extend the conclusion of the liturgy is
upsetting to people. Most people find the prayers and rituals of the
funeral Mass very comforting and healing. Prolonged and emotional
words spoken at the end of the Mass tend to undo all the healing
that has occurred during the Mass. Furthermore, because of tight
schedules coordinated with cemeteries and funeral directors and
because of the flow of daily activities here at Blessed Sacrament,
things need to be kept moving - Not rushed, but not delayed either.
Next week I will write about some of the specific problems that have
occurred as a result of the growing phenomenon of eulogies at
funerals. Some of these problems seem to be occurring in all
parishes; others are specific to Blessed Sacrament. The time has
come, I believe, to deal with the issue directly. More about that
NO EULOGIES Part 3
Two weeks ago I wrote about
that fact that the Catholic Church has never and still does not
permit eulogies at a funeral liturgy. This is because the focus of
the Catholic Funeral Mass is not on the life of the deceased, but on
the saving mercy of God that brings the deceased into eternal life.
Last week I wrote about the "loophole" in our current funeral ritual
that permits a friend or member of the family to say "a few words"
of faith remembrance at the time of the final commendation. In an
effort to keep these few words of remembrance in accord with the
vision of the ritual, we have for three years provided the families
of the deceased with some specific guidelines. These guidelines were
designed to help them construct their words in line with the
Church's desire that their remembrance be a short, but insightful
glimpse into the faith life of the deceased.
We specifically request that only one person share the words
of remembrance. However, more often than not, two or more
persons simply present themselves in the sanctuary after communion -
usually with no prior notice to the Church. We have sometimes had up
to five people speaking at the end of Mass.
We request that the words of remembrance be brief, no more than
three minutes. Instead the speakers often go for fifteen to
thirty minutes. The length is usually due to the fact that the
speaker(s) is/are ignoring the fact that they should not be giving a
eulogy but only share an example or two of the way the deceased
lived his/her faith. Many times these extended eulogies are
delivered by someone who anticipated that he/she would be able to be
composed at the time, but in fact become very emotional and have
great difficulty in delivering their words. This situation becomes
very uncomfortable for the assembly and often results in more grief
for the bereaved at a time in the liturgy when they had been lifted
a little beyond grief through the Eucharistic celebration.
Many of these problems could be avoided if our request that the
words of remembrance be submitted in writing prior to the liturgy
were honored. However, only once has this guideline been followed.
So generally, the priest has no idea what is going to happen when
the person ascends the pulpit. Sometimes the words spoken are not
only uncomfortable, but clearly heretical. (I have had to listen to
totally pantheistic poems being read from the same pulpit from which
the Gospel is proclaimed!) On one occasion a child of the deceased
openly proclaimed that he knew that all this "Church stuff" was
important to his father, but that he didn't believe in any of it -
especially life after death!
On another occasion during this past year, the family of the
deceased told us that there would be no words of remembrance. As I
was about to begin the final commendation, a relative of the
deceased came forward and politely told me to "sit down, because he
had a few things to say." He then went on for over twenty minutes
with a detailed chronology of the deceased's life.
For over three years I have agonized over this issue. Rather than
just forbidding the words spoken in remembrance, I and the
bereavement committee have tried to offer assistance and guidelines
to insure that the words spoken would be in conformity to the vision
of the Church for the funeral liturgy. But after three years of
trying, it has become clear that we are never going to be able to
accomplish what the Order of Christian Funerals envisions for the
"words spoken in remembrance." I have discussed this issue with
Bishop Foys. It has also been the subject of discussion at several
pastors' meetings in the last couple of years. Our parish
Bereavement Committee has also discussed the issue with me at
length. I have also spoken with most of the funeral directors who
service our parish.
After prayerful and extended consideration of the matter I have
decided to follow all the advice being given to me. Therefore,
effective January 1, 2006 we will no longer have the "words spoken
in remembrance" at any funeral liturgy celebrated here at Blessed
Sacrament.. I do not make this decision easily. But as pastor, it is
my responsibility to insure the integrity of the liturgy.
Ultimately, I have to answer to God for what takes place in our
sanctuary. I realize that some parishioners may disagree with me and
it may cause some disappointment at the time of a beloved's death.
However, there are other and, I believe, better options for sharing
those faith memories. I will write about those options next week.
IN PLACE OF THE EULOGY Part 4
For the last three weeks I
have written about eulogies at the Catholic funeral liturgy. I
have stressed the fact that the Church has never permitted the
delivery of a eulogy at the liturgical celebration. It still does
not permit it because the focus is supposed to be on the saving
mystery of Jesus Christ and how God now extends life in the
risen Lord to the deceased. I also wrote about how the Church, in
recent years, did allow for a few brief words of remembrance to be
spoken during the rite of final commendation at the end of the
liturgy. However, rather than follow the guidelines of the Church,
family members and friends have usually used this opportunity to
deliver extended eulogies. In fact, this custom has so taken on a
life of its own that most families feel obliged to provide for
such a eulogy even though it is not permitted. As a result
of the many problems we have experienced which I detailed in last
week's article, I last week announced the decision that effective
January 1, 2006 we will no longer have the "words spoken in
remembrance" at any funeral liturgy celebrated here at Blessed
Sacrament. I also indicated last week that there were other more
appropriate ways for the family or a friend to share a remembrance
of the decease. What are those other options?
The Church's Order of Christian Funerals provides for a Funeral
Vigil. This is ordinarily celebrated at the time of what we commonly
call the "visitation", "wake", or "lay out" for the deceased. The
clergy of Blessed Sacrament strive to be present at the beginning of
such a visitation time in order to celebrate the Funeral Vigil. The
vigil consists of prayers and scripture readings. The end of the
Vigil Service is a very good time for a family member or friend to
speak in remembrance of the deceased.
Many families now hold a reception following the funeral liturgy. We
host many such receptions here in the Undercroft. Once guests are
seated with their food and drink, a family member or friend could
deliver some appropriate words of remembrance. This would function
almost like the typical "after dinner" speech.
Recently, many funeral homes have begun providing a service by which
they will print a small remembrance booklet for the family. These
booklets often have a collage of pictures of the deceased on the
front. The inside contains the words of remembrance written by the
family or friend(s). Many people have commented to me about how they
preferred the booklet to words spoken in Church. The booklet is
something they can take home for remembrance whereas the spoken
words are often forgotten in short order. Putting something in print
also relieves the family member or friend from the intense emotion
of trying to speak at a very difficult time. My own family composed
our own booklet last year when my father died. Each one of us
children wrote our own part. Not only do each of us treasure the
booklet as a keepsake, but also many friends and extended family
members have told me how grateful they are to have it.
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