HEN I DIE, which I hope will not be for some time, I have one really important request. Please pray for my soul. I’m really going to need it. There are a number of people who will gladly vouch for my sinfulness. Such people are plentiful.
When I turned forty years old, I was not bothered by my age at all. I felt pretty well physically, although that ended as my newborn son began waking up at four a.m. every day for a couple of years. Forty-one was fine, forty-two, forty-three….no problem.
Then suddenly everything changed. Forty-five really bothered me. (So will forty-six.) It’s not the number. But at forty-five, a sense of mortality hit hard and sank in deep. I going to someday die, and it is likely I’ve already lived more years than I have left. I think this is what we might call a mid-life crisis.
There are two responses to this: The first is a time-honored classic, especially for men: Avoidance. The second doesn’t get nearly enough press: Heeding God’s Universal Call to Holiness. Avoidance is a lot more fun, but ultimately brings emptiness and unhappiness to oneself and others. Heeding God’s call is something I hope I have been doing already, but accompanied by a sense of mortality, this call has grown deeper in meaning and urgency. Through it all, my sinfulness is front and center. My soul hangs in the balance.
In an interview with National Catholic Register, German philosopher Germain Grisez discusses this call to holiness:
It’s not what God calls you to do which decides how holy you are, but how well you respond to God’s call. In other words, you don’t have a better or worse calling depending upon what you’re called to do, but you can respond well or not so well to what God’s calling you to do. Holiness is, in a sense, a generalized and universalized calling.
…everyone is given sufficient grace to respond well. There isn’t any preferential option to be holy.
Germain Grisez’s words remind us of Matthew 21:7: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
O, THIS BRINGS US BACK TO FUNERALS. I’m going to die someday. God willing, I will live long enough to raise my children and spend many years with their children. God willing I will live long enough to become a first-class second-rate composer. If I can compose one piece of music slightly worthy of God’s glory, I will have to live a long time to achieve this.
But at my own funeral, I can’t conceive of my compositions being worthy before God. (What will it matter if I don’t respond well to God’s call?) The prayers and chants of the Church plead for God’s mercy and express hope in eternal life better than anything I could invent. My work is rubbish, an embarrassment in the face of God, like Adam and Eve discovering their own nakedness. God’s Word is living.
So, at my funeral, please pray for me. Please don’t “celebrate my life” (do that after…) or write on the program that you are “celebrating my resurrection.” While I hope so, you won’t know that. My soul needs purifying, for sure. Did I mention, I’m going to need prayers? Ask my friends. They know this better than my enemies.
Furthermore, I hope to celebrate life while I am alive by being grateful to God for my children, my family, the amazing musicians I get to work with each week, and the gifts God has bestowed upon me. I need to celebrate life while responding well to God’s call—which may be to a number of things: husband, father, neighbor, and least of all, musician.
INALLY, PRAYING FOR THE SOULS of the deceased is an act of mercy and kindness. In doing so, we proclaim as a community a central mystery: our hope of resurrection in light of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. As the Order of Christian Funerals states:
1. In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity.
This is extraordinary and should be a cause of great joy and consolation!
Furthermore, the Order of Christian Funerals has much to say about the responsibilities of the Community in providing comfort to mourners. It begins:
9. The responsibility of the ministry of consolation rests with the believing community, which heeds the words and example of the Lord Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn they shall be consoled.” (Matthew 5:3)…10. Members of the community should console the mourners with words of faith and support and with acts of kindness…”
Please pray for me, as I will for you. We all need it! And God loves us more than we can possibly imagine.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 8:38-39