Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A First in My Priesthood

This morning at my parish we're having a funeral for two young people (ages 16 and 22) killed in a car accident last week. What will make this a "first" is that this will be the first funeral as a Priest (in fact, the first I've ever attended) where there will be more than one casket present.

Every Priest experiences a "first funeral", but then we extend it out to things like "first Priest's funeral", "first funeral of a parent or family member", "first funeral of a baby or young person", etc. Other circumstances come up that are so unique that they can't be classified: The parish I was assigned to on September 11, 2001 lost 11 people, and I doubt (well, frankly I hope) nothing will ever compare to those 2 weeks of absolute grief). Though it hasn't happened in my Priesthood, I suppose doing the funeral of someone murdered would fall into this "sui generis" category. Well, come to think of it, those 9/11 funerals were murders in their own way.

I'll be back later to wax poetically about the experience of a double funeral.

Back from the funeral, it wasn't what I expected. The grief wasn't any more profound because of the second death. I think despair is despair, and you're either experiencing it or you're not. Funerals are almost always sad, except when someone dies after a long bout with suffering. The variables that make things even sadder are: 1) the death is sudden and unexpected; and 2) The deceased was young ("young", of course, is a relative term). Priests (neither young nor old, just "fogeys" in general) have an "auto-pilot" that kicks in with regards to funerals. It helps us, as human beings, to be in the room with a number of people so obviously grieving while still being able to "hold it together." In that capacity, we represent the Church to them as we perform the Church's rituals for the burial of the dead. That's heavy stuff.

But the life of a parish Priest shifts gears often, and maybe after a funeral like that it's a good thing. This afternoon I heard the confessions of 5th graders in our religious education program, and tonight I have a Mass for our Altar-Rosary Society. A full day, with another funeral tomorrow: a man in his mid 40s who died after a bout with cancer. He leaves behind a mother, who will cry tomorrow with just as much passion and intensity as the mothers who cried today for their young children.

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