Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.
During November we call to mind both the Saints and the Holy Souls. It is also a time to focus ourselves on how well we are prepared for our own deaths. And while end of life issues and health care decisions need to be carefully considered before our demise. I want to focus on what happens after death, in other words the funeral and burial practices that are appropriate for Christians. (A great resource for end of life issues is the "Advanced Medical Directives & AZ Health Care Power of Attorney" found on the Diocese of Phoenix web site: www.diocesephoenix.org and click on Departments: Medical Ethics.)
In the Order of Christian Funerals the Church lays out a consoling series of rites that are designed to both comfort the bereaved as well as how to reverently treat the deceased. For baptized Catholics that normally means having a Funeral Mass at the parish church (also a non-Catholic married to a Catholic is permitted a funeral in the Church). This can be done with the body being present or in the presence of the cremated remains. One of the dilemma's we are seeing is that family members, usually children, no longer practice the faith of their parent making the Funeral Mass very awkward. And in many situations the children even refuse to provide a Catholic funeral for their deceased parent. But on the good side it is often an opportunity for a family to reconnect with the Church. Still it always saddens me when a faithful, active parishioner dies and the family refuses to provide a funeral. (In situations like this we can still have a Memorial Mass said for the deceased.)
In order to avoid some of these dilemmas I suggest that Catholics write in their wills instructions for their funerals. Sometimes surviving family members opt out of providing a funeral because they don't want to spend the inheritance on the funeral. So it would also help if funds are set aside and earmarked for the funeral expenses. Better still is to prepay for your funeral. But perhaps the best way to ensure you will be given a Catholic funeral and burial is to communicate your wishes to your family.
With the increase in cremation (about 40% of our funerals at Mt. Carmel) another strange problem has developed: not properly interring or entombing the cremains. Catholic teaching insists on proper burial/entombment of cremated remains. After all we would not keep a corpse on our mantelpiece. I have often gone to peoples homes and see an urn sitting on a table and ask where they got the nice vase and they usually tell me, "oh it's not a vase its my father's ashes". Well I first tell them that I find it really creepy, "why would you want to keep them in your home?" Then I ask: "do you believe the person is still here?" They usually say no and I reply, "well why keep the remains? Additionally there is the whole psychology of grief and letting go that is being ignored.
Again to avoid this from happening to you have a burial plot or a tomb in a mausoleum pre-purchased for your remains. Why is this important? Because as Christians we believe that the body and soul are an integrated unit and make us who we are. So the body even without the soul is still worthy of our respect. Additionally we believe in the resurrection of the body. So the way we treat the body even in death bespeaks of this belief. This practice I believe is one of the reasons our culture has such a hard time with respecting the body even while alive. And so by not interring the remains reverently we are furthering this cultural disrespect for the human body.
A few other points: Life Insurance, life insurance, and life insurance! Having this will greatly assist your family in properly providing a funeral. Today in AZ a basic funeral (cremation) can cost several thousand dollars and a funeral with a viewing, Mass and burial plot can cost over $10,000. Now you may be thinking, "sure old people need to get life insurance" but not so. It is a good idea when you are young, maybe first married to take out a policy. Also it is a good idea to have a policy on your children.
This is probably not the most uplifting of my letters but none of us will get out of this life alive. So act and plan accordingly!
Eternal rest grant unto them O, Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
Love, Fr. John B.