In spite of ill health and several hospitalizations the last five years of his life, my father lived 96 and a half years. His spirit was long ready to make its leap into eternity, but his body bound him to earth for a longer time than he desired. He spent the last six months of his life in a nursing home room. Bed, chair, and bath, all within a few feet of each other, became his outermost physical boundaries. The TV set, my brother, me, and an occasional visitor became his windows on the wider world.
Prepare the funeral
Cardinal George Pell made headlines in the Catholic world early in 2007 when he issued guidelines limiting eulogies during funeral liturgies in the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia to five minutes, aiming to head off eulogists who spoke too long, got too emotional, or referred to the drinking and sexual exploits of the deceased.
Lord God, You call each of us by name, and You alone know each of us through and through. You have called Gerald R. Ford unto Yourself, and again he has responded to You with hope and is confirmed by America's prayers just as he sought them when called to serve as President of this great nation.
As the church in the United States becomes more and more diverse, it becomes increasingly important to be familiar with the cultures of the various people who call this country and the Catholic Church home.
Between 1960 and 1980, 13 percent of all deaths in the United States resulted in cremation; Catholics comprised 20 percent of this total. In the 1990s, however, cremation was used in 26 percent of funerals--45 percent in Canada. The number of cremations is rising every year and in some states surpasses the number of traditional burials.
It is natural to turn to God at times of crisis and great mystery, and death presents the greatest mystery of all. As the Second Vatican Council put it, "The enigma of the human condition has at its most baffling point the confrontation with death" (Gaudium et spes, no. 18).
Giving a homily at a funeral service is, at best, difficult. So many emotions, so many expectations, so much hurt and pain hoping for an answer. All we can provide are words we hope will honor the grief of the bereaved and help them find comfort.
Funerals aren't for sissies. Looking death in the eye is enough to make anyone anxious. Take courage, trust in the Lord, and remember it's your primary responsibility to lead the assembly to do the same.
After polls determined that our number one fear is public speaking—topping even death—writer Peggy Noonan observed the implications: At a funeral most of us would prefer lying in the coffin to standing at the lectern.