The following comes from the Pastor’s Page of the Bulletin of St. Matthew’s in Dix Hills New York. Father McCartney reminds us of our obligation to take care of our parents in life and in death. Read the whole thing, you won’t be disappointed.
My dear people of St. Matthew’s, Now that the Christmas season is over, and we are once again in Ordinary Time, we return to our discussion of what it means to be a “practicing Catholic.” Last time, we saw that the foundation of practicing our faith lay in attending Mass on every Sunday and every Holy Day of Obligation during the entire year. Failure to do this absent a legitimate excuse (serious illness, severely inclement weather, etc.) is a mortal sin, requiring one to go to sacramental confession before receiving the Holy Eucharist again.
Although January 1, New Year’s Day, was a Holy Day of Obligation (the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God), fewer than half of those who attend regularly on Sundays, came to the Holy Day Masses at St. Matthew’s. This is a very discouraging trend that all priests have observed worsening in recent years. Our religious education teachers tell me that when they ask their students after Christmas or Easter how many went to Mass on those days, the numbers are getting smaller and smaller. There was a time that, no matter what, every Catholic went to Mass at the very least on Christmas and Easter. Now, sadly, we have lost even that.
The widespread violation of this precept of the Church has caused the greatest number of problems in our Church over the last forty years.
Let us take the issue of Catholic funerals as an example. Just eight years ago when I was newly ordained, and stationed in Center Moriches, we began to notice a disturbing trend. A small, but growing number of Catholic families were refusing to have funeral Masses celebrated for their loved ones. Initially we thought it had to do with the cost of the funeral; so we offered to waive the usual fee. But that was not the reason. We thought the funeral directors were discouraging them; but that proved not to be the case. The answer ultimately came from the families themselves.
“Well, Father, we’re Catholic, and all that, but we’re really not all that comfortable coming to church. So we thought it would be better if you just said a few short prayers here in the funeral parlor.” In my many conversations with families over this issue, it became strangely clear that they felt they were doing me a favor, by allowing me to say some prayers for their deceased loved one. As if the highlight of a priest’s day was going to a funeral home to say prayers in front of a group of people who could care less. This problem increased out east over the years, until about a third of our “funerals” were no longer Masses. The most tragic part of all this was the realization that in the majority of these cases the deceased was a truly devout and practicing Catholic whose family had ignored his last wishes. It would break my heart to learn, for example, that the deceased was a daily communicant, but the adult children refused to give their mother or father a proper Catholic funeral Mass. After a lifetime of practicing the Catholic faith, loving and sacrificing for the family, an elderly parent would be denied a funeral Mass by cold, unfeeling adult children, who could not bear to spend forty-five minutes in a church at Mass, even though that was what their parent most wanted.
Once, when I went to the funeral home for one of these anemic little services, I noticed a familiar crimson and gold letter “C” in the casket with the deceased. I spoke to his adult son (who was older than I was) and asked him if it was a Chaminade varsity letter. He told me it was, and explained how his father had been in the first graduating class of Chaminade, how much he had loved the school his whole life, and how devout a Catholic he had been. I told him that I was a graduate of Chaminade, and he told me that he was as well; and then proceeded to introduce me to his sons, who were all Chaminade graduates, too. As we spoke, the conversation was going so well I thought that I would certainly be able to convince this family to have a funeral Mass. At the end of our talk I broached the subject and was rebuffed: “Absolutely not, Father. We’re Catholics, but we’re not going to church.” I then told the son that I was ready to begin the prayer service and his response will be with me as long as I live: “Oh, Father, we’ve had such a nice conversation, let’s not spoil it. But thank you so much for coming.”
Let’s not spoil it. This is the saddest line in the history of Roman Catholicism after “There was no room for them in the inn.” Father, let’s not spoil the light, superficial chat we’ve just had for the last five minutes by ruining it with prayerFor my father. Who is dead. And lying in his casket. And was a devout Catholic who never missed Mass or his daily prayers one day in the last eighty years. What does one say in response to this? I simply walked out, which is precisely what they had asked me to do. I later offered a private Mass for the man. Not all that many years ago, such a story would have been absolutely unthinkable, but something has changed. irritant to them: a speck of religious dust in the secular eye.
It is not merely that the general public has become secularized, but now nominal, non-practicing Catholics have become so secularized that their faith has actually become an irritant to them: a speck of religious dust in the secular eye. I feel so strongly about this that when I composed my famous “Sin Sheet” for Confession I added, under the Fourth Commandment (Honor thy Father and thy Mother) this question: “Have I made certain my elderly parents can get to church, be visited by a priest, receive the sacraments, and have a funeral Mass?” To fail to fulfill these obligationsfor an elderly parent is a sin, and a grievous one at that.
I am very glad that in my eighteen months here at St. Matthew’s, this type of outrage has never once been requested. This does not surprise me, given the faith I have come to see in our parish. However, as pastor, I will refuse any request for a priest to go to a funeral home and do a small prayer service instead of a funeral Mass. It is simply wrong to manipulate religion like that. The Catholic Church cannot force people to have funeral Masses, but at St. Matthew’s any funeral service outside of Mass will only be done as the Church intends: by bringing the body to the church and conducting the prayer service there. Let the non-practicing family sit in God’s house, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and stare into the darkness of their own unbelief. If I am the one to throw some Catholic sand in the secular eye, I am only too happy to oblige.-Fr. McCartney