I celebrate just over 50 funerals a year; about one a week. (People are dying to come to church here). And most of these funerals feature large numbers of fallen away Catholics and unchurched individuals. Most of these people I see ONLY at funerals and sometimes weddings. For this reason, in recent years, I have altered my approach at funerals and direct almost half of the sermon to the unchurched and call them to repent and return home. Surely in the first part I speak of the deceased, offer thanks to God for their life, entrust them to God and ask the congregation to pray for the repose of the deceased soul. I never fail to menton judgment and purgatory as reasons for this prayer. That is too often not mentioned at Catholic funerals, a terrible oversight if you ask me. But the bottom line is that I spend the first half of the sermon commending the deceased person to God’s benevolent mercy and care.
But given the terribly high loss in the practice of faith and the consequent grave condition of many of the souls at any given funeral I cannot allow (any longer) an omission to be made of summoning them to Christ. How can it be that God has led them to my parish and I would say nothing to them to dissuade them from their path away from God and his sacraments? So many souls today are not only unchurched and backslidden (fallen away), but they are often locked in serious, mortal sin. I cannot know this about any particular individual but it is clear that many are lost like sheep without a shepherd. While conscious of my own sin, I cannot remain silent (any longer) and fail to call the unchurched and fallen away back. And trust me, even at the funeral of strong Catholic families there are MANY who are fallen away. Add to that the fact that many funerals I celebrate are for people who themselves were not always fervent in the practice of the faith. Families of such as these have even more members in need of a sobering wake up call.
In the video below is an excerpt from a funeral I preached some time ago for a man named Henry who practiced his own faith quite well but whose children and grandchildren largely did not. No more details about this funeral are necessary or appropriate. But with approval of a family member and since the passage of time is significant and the venue undisclosed I do not think any of you readers would have any idea who this individual is or his family. I will not even indicate the city in which this funeral took place. But in it is a good example of what I do at most every funeral in recent years in terms of the second half of the funeral wherein I turn my attention to the unchurched and fallen away.
I will admit that some of the things I say are tough. But remember, I only have them once and I have to come right to the point. No one will follow an uncertain trumpet. A very few have criticized my approach by insisting that funerals are sensitive times and we ought just to console the grieving family and say pleasant and encouraging things. Others, especially the older ones come to me and say, “Thanks Father, there are people in my family that needed to hear it!” But in the end I cannot preach either to please or displease man. Rather, I have a conviction that this is what God would have me do. I cannot waste an opportunity to clearly warn, as Jesus often did, that judgment day is coming, and maybe sooner than you or I expect. We have to be ready for, at an hour that we do not expect the Son of Man will come (eg Mat 24:44). For those who do not have the time to listen to the video the fundamental points are these:
- I hope you will not forget to pray also for yourself today because you are going to die.
- What are you doing to get ready to meet God?
- There are too many people today who are not serious about their spiritual life. They are goofing off, playing around and laughing their way through life as if it were all some big joke. They do not pray, go to Church or read Scripture. They are committing serious sin and not repenting of it.
- If this is you, you are not going to be ready to meet God.
- I exhort you to get ready now, delay not your conversion. Be serious about your walk with God by praying every day; reading scripture every day, Church every Sunday.
- If you are in serious and unrepented sin, get on your knees today and beg God’s mercy and help. You may not even know how to stop, but tell God you’re sorry and need his help to stop. But do not go on calling good what God has called sinful.
- Be serious about it.
- Hold to God’s unchanging hand!
I think that without some exhortation of this sort the funeral service can be worse than a missed opportunity, it can be downright harmful. Why do I say this? Because our silence speaks volumes. To many who are locked in serious sin, or fallen away, never to hear a work of exhortation becomes a kind of affirmation, a tacit approval that every thing is fine when it is not. This is harmful silence. To those who say funerals are not good times to speak in strong language, then I say, “When?” When will I get a similar opportunity to speak to so many unchurched? When will they hear the “come to Jesus” talk if not then? When?
Here’s the sermon excerpt. I’ve included pictures related to funerals this is really just an audio recording of my sermon with a slide show attached. Remember it is only the second half of a sermon. The first half was largely a commending of Henry to God’s mercy and acknowledgment of his strong faith and love of God; a joyful acknowledgment of his being a gift to us from God. I also reminded the congregation to pray for him since he goes to judgment wherein God may need to purge him of any remaining sorrows, sins or pains brought from this world. And then comes this second half: