Final Things

11-06-2022Pastor's LetterFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

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.

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. 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 it can also be 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 offered 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 funerals in the Diocese) another strange problem has developed: not properly interring or entombing the cremains. Catholic teaching insists on proper burial/ entombment of cremated remains. After all you would not keep a corpse on our mantelpiece. I have often gone to 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 it’s my father’s ashes”. Well, I first tell them that I find it 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. The body even without the soul is still worthy of our respect. 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. I would imagine that many of you do carry life insurance but probably not your children. Encourage them to have it and have a policy on their minor children as well. Death can often come as an uninvited and very expensive visitor to a family.

Today in AZ, the days of the family-run funeral home are all but gone. Large corporations have bought most of the Mortuaries even though they often retain familiar family names of previous owners. I point this out because many times families are surprised when they don’t see the familiar faces at a Mortuary whose services their family may have used for years. (There are still a few family-run businesses in the Valley, and we also have our own Catholic Mortuary at Queen of Heaven in Mesa and Holy Cross in Avondale, which ensures the funeral and burial will follow Catholic practice.)

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 all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

Love, Fr. John B.

PS: On Nov 12 at 9am in Madonna Hall, the Catholic Community Foundation will offer a Legacy Planning Workshop. Come learn how to leave a legacy, have your estate/tax/trust questions answered.