Saturday, January 19, 2008

Speak well of the dead

Baptisms in the parish still outpace funerals by a spacious margin on a year-to-year basis, but we certainly get our share of requiem Masses. On a long enough timeline, everyone’s chances of survival are zero.

Often enough, I have little direct knowledge of the deceased. I try to read an obituary, quiz the funeral home boys, find out if he was young or old, sick or healthy, had family or not... if he was a he or a she...

The preaching on these occasions tends to be a smidge generic. I can’t offer personal anecdotes so I hold fast to two inviolable rules: stick to the Gospel and speak well of the dead.

That’s what I did today. Actually, that’s what I overdid today.

Lots of people at the wake last night. Memorial T-shirts were passed out, four women collapsed on emotional overload, everyone agreed he had died much too soon... 36 years old.

At the Mass I practically canonized the guy, about whom I had been told simply that his family loved him and he had a great sense of humor. So I commented on the Gospel (“Now my soul is troubled, but what shall I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But it is for this hour that I have come into the world...”).

I pointed out that Jesus transformed His death into the ultimate and defining act of free will. And finally, invigorated,I went on a roll about how much everyone was going to miss fulano, what a great guy he was, how much good he did for others, how his life was not in vain, etc...

I knew I nailed it when friends and family of the defunct told me at the cemetery that I spoke as if I had known him in life, that my description of him was uncanny.

However after reading today’s paper I have come to the conclusion that, notwithstanding the fortuitous accolades, my research should probably be more thorough in the future.

Live and learn.