Last Things … Lasting Gifts
As another liturgical year draws to a close, the Catholic Church focuses on the traditional “four last things” that await all of us on the other side of the grave: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The readings proclaimed and the prayers offered at Mass, as well as the various solemnities and feasts celebrated during the month of November (i.e., All Saints’ Day, All Souls Day, Christ the King), all reflect the inevitable reality of universal reckoning, redemption, and resurrection.
Perhaps these perennial reminders are particularly poignant this year for my siblings and me, because over the past three years, we have mourned the loss of both parents, celebrated their lives of faith, prayed for each of their immortal souls at a Mass of Christian Burial, and laid their bodies to rest in their parish cemetery.
But along with the healing rituals of our faith, our parents gave their children another enduring gift. Long before they retired, became more frail, fell ill, or died—in other words, while they were still relatively young, my parents made some very pragmatic plans regarding four last things on this side of the grave: they visited their local parish church to express their desire for a Catholic funeral Mass; they visited their local funeral home to select everything from a mortuary card to a coffin: they visited their local Catholic cemetery to arrange the site for their eventual burial, including the selection of a headstone; and most importantly, they visited with their eight children to let each one of us know their personal intentions along with the expectation that these plans would be respected and fulfilled. My parents also took the steps necessary to ensure that these plans would be paid in advance. On multiple levels, their planning was an incredible, unselfish act of mercy and compassion for us, their children: we were able to know, understand, and respect their personal wishes, especially in the context of their closely-held Catholic faith; we didn’t have to worry about or struggle with the particular details of their respective funeral plans; and we were free to focus on the spiritual and religious aspects of our loss, making a difficult time easier, lighter, and more hope-filled.
Some might see this discussion, let alone their actions, as something that is depressing or morbid. But I believe that their actions were and are an expression of their faith, hope, and love: faith in Jesus Christ who came to save them and every human person (body and soul); hope in the future resurrection of their bodies on the last day and life eternal in the kingdom of heaven; and love for us, by providing for their end-of-life plans in a manner that helped us to fulfill the essentials aspects of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy for our parents: burying and praying for the dead.
Our parents gave us the precious gift of life, the blessing of a close family, the grace of a strong faith. Like make parents who make sacrifices for their children, this life could go on and one. But this “last” gift described in this column is one that has continued to give long after the initial plans were made. Thank you, Mom and Dad. May you rest in peace.
Msgr. Andrew Dubois is the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Bangor