32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Wisdom 6:1-16
Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13
November 12, 2017

Today we hear the parable of the ten virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom.  Five of them were wise and came prepared (ready) for a long wait with plenty of oil.  Five of them were foolish.  These five were ill prepared for the wait.

The bridegroom for us in this parable is Jesus.  Are we prepared?  We near the end of our liturgical year.  As we do so, we may think about the end times when Jesus will come again.  Are we ready for his second coming?

Now, since Jesus hasn’t come in almost 2,000 years, it can be easy to think that we don’t need to worry because it won’t happen soon.  Yes, Jesus hasn’t come in 2,000 years but how many people have been born, lived, and died in those 2,000 years.  Were they ready for their passing?

We need to regularly examine our lives to ask ourselves if we are ready.  Are we living our lives as Christ teaches?  However, today I want to reflect on what we do when we know a person’s death is coming and what we do when they have died.

We have the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  Some of you may have grown up calling it “last rites” or “extreme unction.”  It used to be done only when death was very near.

In the mid-20th century many ancient documents were being found and it was discovered that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was not always just for those whose death was near.  This realization pointed people to James 5:13-15 that calls for the anointing for the sick.  So, we have a renewed (emphasis on the “re”) understand that we anoint not just at the point of death but for those facing serious illness.

Yet, we still retain some prayers for when death is near.  Key to this is a prayer known as the “Apostolic Pardon” that includes prayers for the remission of sins and that God open the gates of Paradise to the dying person.

When should these prayers for the dying be done?  Some people still want to wait for death to be very close.  When I say “very” I mean “very” but you don’t have to wait for the last minute.  Sometimes we don’t know until the last minute.  Then call.  Sometimes we don’t know the person is going to die.  The priest is never called.  Then, our Church reminds us that God always provides the needed grace.

However, if the medical team says two weeks, don’t wait.  I say this for two reasons.  First, the time they say is only an estimate.  Sometimes it happens sooner, sometimes longer.  Secondly, if you want to the last minute, a priest might not be available.  If you call when the person is still able to talk, there is also the opportunity for confession and their participation.  If you call ahead, it can also be scheduled for when family can be there.

After our loved ones die we have our funeral rites.  Central to the funeral rites is a funeral Mass but please note there is more.  If you read the funeral rites book, it doesn’t just have a Mass.  It includes vigil prayers that can happen at the calling hours because our church sees the calling hours as part of our rites to remember the dead, sharing memories.

There are burial prayers that are also part of the Catholic ritual.  At the funeral Mass, you might notice that when the body or cremains are present, there is no final blessing at the end of the funeral Mass.  This is because our ritual hasn’t concluded.  We go to the place of burial and offer some prayers there.  Only after those prayers is the final blessing offered.

Death can be a sad time.  Recognizing the loss that has occurred, it used to be the norm for people to wear black at funerals.  Even the priest wore black vestments.

Now white is the common color for the funeral vestments worn by the priest.  White is a color that symbolizes hope in our faith.  At funerals, the white pall reminds us that our deceased loved ones were dressed in white at their baptism when their journey towards eternal life began.

The readings and prayers at funerals are designed to help us find hope at the time of death.  (Here, one might think about the last sentence of today’s second reading, “Therefore, console one another with these words.”)  For instance, the most common gospel reading for funerals is John 14:1-6 where Jesus tells us that he goes to prepare a place in his Father’s House for all who believe in him.  These words give us hope, the hope of a place in Heaven.

This is a central purpose of the funeral Mass, to celebrate the gift of eternal life.  Our funeral rites do call for us to think about the person and what they meant to us but the Mass with its prayers and readings point us to eternal life.

There is one last item associated with our funeral rites where I find misunderstanding about what our Catholic faith allows.  It is the question of cremation.

For a long time, cremation was not allowed by the Church. If the person was cremated, the remains could not be brought into a church.  This is because some cultures that cremate as part of their rituals do so with beliefs that deny the resurrection of the body.

Times change and the Church understands that sometimes people choose cremation for matter of having burial space.  Cremations is now officially allowed and the remains can be brought into the church for the funeral.

I think a number of people realize this much.  I think what is not known is that, while our Church allows cremation, it still calls for the cremains to be kept together and buried in a proper place.  It is the remains of a body that served as a temple for the soul.  The remains should be treated as such, kept together and given a proper burial.

I hope this has helped you have a greater appreciation for our funeral rites.  When we lose someone we love to death, we are going to be sad but we can find hope in what Jesus offers us in eternal life.

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