A while back I attended a funeral for a non-practicing Catholic. A short, non-denominational service was held in the funeral home led by some sort of spiritual-but-not-religious person. It was replete with twangy country songs about “hay-ven”, words like “celebrate”, “honour” and “priceless legacy”, and finally the deceased’s life was recounted in soothing tones to a sleepy crowd. I myself had to get up halfway through the 10-minute service and leave the room only because I couldn’t bear the embarrassment of sitting through one more twang. It was painful to sit through. I tried to envision the deceased standing in the presence of the mighty cherubim and seraphim, the blinding archangels Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Urial and the Great Fathers and Mothers of Faith from every age who I imagined were ushering him in to meet the God of all of heaven and earth. I imagined him trying to explain in great detail why, as the (non?) religious person remarked about him, he had “lived his life the way he had wanted”. Those words, while they were meant to be a comfort to the crowd, frankly, made me fear for the deceased’s immortal soul and I said a prayer for God’s mercy to be showered upon him. The most touching part of the service was the cute old couple next to me who fervently bowed their heads and with hands outstretched recited the Lord’s Prayer with love and emotion. I almost shed a tear.
It’s at times like these where it becomes crystal clear to me that life without God is utterly devoid of meaning. We might have a stamp collection or a cool car or a group of friends for which we get up every morning, but hard as we try, we just can’t manufacture the profundity - the depth and length and height and breadth - that the life and death of Jesus Christ gives to a person’s life. Why? It’s simply because we, as Catholic Christians, are called to ponder that same Jesus, what he has done for us, the love he has for us and his blessed life and horrific death. In fact, we’re called to think about the mysteries of life and death on a daily basis – what it means to be alive and the purpose of life (to know, love and serve God in this life and be happy with him in the next). We are called to reflect in silence and stillness upon Love Incarnate and what it means to truly love others. And further still we are called to be in touch with reality when it comes to personal sin – daily striving to know ourselves better, to confess and cut the evil out of our lives and to increase daily in virtue and spiritual and moral strength. Sure, just because we’re called to do all that, doesn’t mean we accomplish it all perfectly – no way. But it’s in the fighting and striving and persisting and persevering that we become well-rounded, virtuous, passionate, deeply caring individuals, contributing to society for the love of God and neighbour, as well as sharing the good news of God’s profound love for us with everyone we meet. This is what gives us depth, strength and character – not so much stamp collecting or racing souped-up Mitsubishi’s.
It left after a few minutes, but returned an hour later to do the same thing. My husband finally went out to say hello and the couple explained that they had bought a dog at this very house 15 years prior and the dog had just passed away. They wanted, in memory of the pooch, to make a “pilgrimage” to the place it was born. My husband explained to them, as they greedily eyed our dog, that we’d just moved in and knew nothing of the previous owners, so they said their goodbyes and left, happy to have honoured their pup’s memory. As much as I wanted to feel sorrow for the “mourning” couple, I couldn’t. Sure the death of a pet can be hard, I don’t deny that, but I couldn’t help but feel awkward at the silliness of it all. My sense was that that couple was searching for God in the shallow grave of a dead dog. And who knows, perhaps God showed himself to them there, he uses absolutely anything to work towards good.
But in that moment I remembered that at some point we are all going to have to stand before the throne of the Almighty and justify the choices we made in life, whether we chose to honour and elevate ourselves, our pets or our careers, and whether we fought for virtue and loved the Lord God with our whole minds, our whole souls and with all our strength – and our neighbour as ourself. That’s going to be much more that just awkward. It’s going to be downright terrifying. All the more reason to hold on to God and never let go. Then it could be said of you when you die: She Lived Passionately. She Loved Passionately. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.