In the early hours of morning, the young adult stood alone outside a towering church waiting for the hearse. Slowly, cars pulled up and a small knot of family and friends joined her. They lined up behind her mother’s casket, filed silently into the church, and the priest began. He recognized the diversity of the gathered: some Catholics, some not; some spiritual, some not; some familiar with the practice, most not. In softly nuanced tones, he spoke of the love and loss that had brought the entire gathering together. And he emphasized the central message of Catholicism: love is at the heart of human experience. Funerals are moments when love and its loss are intensely present.
The reality is that every person contributes to or diminishes the gift of love through words and actions. Some have a great capacity to embrace others, to devote attention to others and in so doing, empower and heal. Some have the ability to enter into the suffering of others, to immerse self in the lives of others. In so doing, they develop empathy and provide support. Some are gifted with the strength to truly hear another; others touch lives with humor or a quick kind word. There are innumerable ways to share the love that exists within each of us.
And there are so many times when each person is in need of such expressions of love and kindness. There is an ebb and flow to the exchange that binds each to another. And that is testimony to the mystery, to the uniqueness and the commonality among human beings. Every individual makes a difference.
Funerals are a reminder of all that, of the years of exchange and interaction and the very importance of living a life of caring for others. And for Catholics, the funeral Mass affirms all the human emotions of grief and nests the pain in hope and promise. But the ritual welcomes all to experience that. It is a reminder of finiteness and a message of hope. Most of all, it is focused on the reality of human relationships and the mystery of love in human life.
At the conclusion of the service, the young woman greeted each participant with words of gratitude. She was embraced by friends and family, held tight within the same circle of life that filled the church. It was over and just beginning all at once.