Faith & Thought

Funeral of a Friend Is a Celebration of Life, Not Death

Back in June, we held the funeral liturgy for my closest priest friend, Tom McGloin.

I was invited to be the main celebrant at the Mass and to preach the homily. I have celebrated funeral liturgies for my father, mother, sister, and for many close friends. I don’t think the homily I gave at the funeral liturgy for Tom was the most difficult experience I have had preaching a homily at a funeral, but preparing the homily was extremely demanding and emotionally exhausting.

I believe that a funeral liturgy is one of the most beautiful and powerful liturgies in the Catholic Church. It touches upon every truth that Catholics profess. I wanted to pay homage to Tom and to remind the congregation of why we call the funeral liturgy a celebration.

Tom and I had a friendship that spanned 70 years. We met in the first year of college, and there was instant chemistry.

I thought Tom was one of the wittiest people I had ever met, and he thought I was one of the wittiest people he had ever met. We formed a mutual admiration society. It seemed as though whenever we were together, we were laughing, and those who were with us were laughing because of us.

In our class, we became like a comedy team. There was Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis, and McGloin and Lauder. Those were the early days of our friendship, but over a 70-year period, the friendship grew stronger and deeper.

Because through sanctifying grace, we share in the life of the Blessed Trinity and actually participate in the love communion of Father, Son and Spirit, we become like sacraments.

We speak of those who share in God’s life as temples of the Holy Spirit. I believe that this makes us something like living sacraments. When we have a relationship with someone who participates in God’s life, we are also meeting God. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber claimed that in every I-Thou relationship, that is, in every love relationship, we also meet God. I think the Catholic doctrine of sanctifying grace indicates that when we love someone who shares God’s life, we are also meeting God. For 70 years, Tom was like a sacrament in my life, perhaps never more strongly than when he was dying.

Tom was one of the most unselfish people I have ever met. I visited him the day before he died of leukemia, and the first words he said to me when I entered his room were an inquiry about the health of another friend of mine who was suffering from leukemia.

I thought this was amazing. Tom may not have known he was going to die the next day, but he knew he was dying, and yet he did not allow his own experience of dying to narrow him to focus only on his own suffering.

During his last hours, he was concerned about someone else’s suffering. This seemed to me to be very Christlike and a sign of the unselfishness that Tom exhibited throughout his life.

In my homily, I stressed that the funeral liturgy was a celebration. I pointed out that I and the concelebrants were dressed in white, that we were singing, and that the entire liturgy was an act of hope and joy because of the victory won by Jesus’ death and resurrection. I stressed that we were not here to say goodbye to Tom.

We were here to rejoice in Jesus’ victory and in Tom’s participation in that victory.

I shared with those at the Mass my belief that when someone dies in Christ, that person becomes present wherever Christ is present. The deceased person, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, really lives in a new way, not just in our memories but actually is alive and shares in a new way Christ’s loving presence to people. Tom was a member of Christ’s Mystical Body.

Death does not kill the Mystical Body. Death in union with the Risen Christ does not destroy love relationships but intensifies them, strengthens them, deepens them. Having a 70-year friendship with Tom McGloin was like having a relationship with a sacrament.

I don’t believe that relationship has ended.

In his life, Tom was, for me and for countless others, a channel of God’s love, blessings, and graces. We cannot picture or imagine the presence in our lives of those we have loved who have died, but my faith tells us that with Christ, they are present to us.

I ended my homily by saying that we are not here to say “Goodbye” to Tom.

Rather in the name of all of us who have been blessed through hav- ing Tom in our lives for so many years, I say to Tom, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.