Monday, April 8, 2019

Don't just ensure that the casket is straight. Ensure that our lives are too.

I have presided over many a funeral Mass which always ends either with the casket being lowered into the burial spot in the ground, or the ashes of the deceased interred into the niche of the columbarium.  Before the dirt is heaped onto the casket or the niche is sealed with the marble slab showing the photograph of the deceased, the family of the deceased is always asked a question by the funeral director or undertaker – “is it straight?” 

The well-meaning funeral director obviously wants to give as much comfort to the grieving family as possible, and one indication of this is that the final resting place of their loved one is given attention to detail, and on the physical level, this would mean that the casket or the urn is in as upright and straight a position as possible.  It never fails that a family member will always ask that the casket be moved ever-so-slightly either to the left or the right, or that the urn pushed a bit further in, or adjusted in some tiny way. I suppose it’s their way of saying their last goodbye, or their doing one last act of love for them.  

I can understand that there is a ton of sentiments going on at that time in life.  It is, as they say, one of those ‘liminal’ moments of life, where we face a transition going on, and something that is beyond our control.  When Jesus died, John’s gospel describes in quite vivid detail how Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus went to Pilate to request to let them have the body of Jesus, and how Nicodemus brought a huge amount of myrrh and aloes weighing about a hundred pounds to embalm Jesus’ body.  It was their way of showing their love and respect for Jesus after he had died.  It was all they could do in their capacity given the situation that they faced at the time, much like the little gestures that family members do after their loved ones have departed.  It also gives them something to be busy about.

But as people who have heaven as our final and eternal destination, we have to believe that how we live our lives and how we align our lives with the north star of Jesus Christ is really the only and most important alignment that we should ever have.  Our calling is to make Jesus our standard and aim; our paragon of virtue and holiness.  All else is, as they say, simply commentary.  When this is clear, and when we have lived lives that mirror Christ's in terms of virtue and righteousness, we would have given our loved ones the greatest peace and assurance after we die. It wouldn’t really matter then how out of alignment our casket is in the burial plot, or how unsymmetrical the urn of our ashes are in its columbarium niche, because what was most important that while we were alive, our lives were straight, and that we were correctly aligned to God.  

If our lives were not lived with great attention to detail, it can almost be a mockery if our casket is so straight in the burial spot, while in stark contrast, our lives were way off target as far as righteousness was concerned.  

Having said this, is it easy to live a virtuous life?  By no means is it easy.  If it were, we would have many more canonized saints now.  But try and strive we must, even if it does appear to be an arduous task. We lose sight of this so easily in life, partly because we get easily distracted by the lights and sounds and smells of this world.  We settle so easily for what thrills and delights for the moment, but are things that really have no lasting effect, a bit like how fireworks dazzle, overawe and spellbind, but for all of three to five seconds of time.  Sin is always so attractive, but its aftertaste is always bitter and acrid.

My priestly ministry has to include efforts to impress this importance to the flock entrusted to me, and though it may not be fashionable or popular, I have to constantly remind my flock of the reality of heaven and that God never makes empty promises.  

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