Up Front and Personal

Mourning the Deceased Before Replacing Him

By Father Eugene Hemrick

Not only were those with whom I spoke on Capitol Hill in Washington dismayed, they were irate about the political wrangling over the appointment of Antonin Scalia’s successor before the Supreme Court justice, who died Feb. 13, was laid to rest.

The outcry raises a critical question about our times: Is the abnormal behavior of our age now considered normal behavior? Have our values been turned upside down?

When a person dies, the first priority is to comfort the deceased person’s family, friends and colleagues, who are touched by the death of a loved one. It’s not only normal but a respectful practice to put aside business concerns and instead bow heads in silence and pray for the eternal rest of the deceased.

At moments like this, it’s also normal to take our mortality more seriously, to reflect on the ultimate meaning of life and what counts most in it.

Is it any wonder that so many are angered by all the talk about a replacement at a time when the moment calls for putting aside hype and politics until a person is mourned?

Is it any wonder that many are outraged that people sound off publicly about what should or should not happen next, giving the impression that they couldn’t care less about the deceased; when people take advantage of a sacred moment to score selfish political points?

How often have we seen families fight bitter battles over who has a right to the inheritance, thus demeaning the sacredness that death demands? When this pettiness happens, we cannot but feel: This is out of order. It is disgusting and reflects a dysfunctional family and self-centeredness at its worst!

What, in particular, causes abnormal behavior to become accepted as normal, and ethical values to fall by the wayside?

It comes down to hardness of heart that puts selfish needs and concerns first.

It’s rigidity leading to self-righteousness and dismissing values and ethical standards of behavior. Hardness of heart refuses to comprehend that sacred moments are not a time for advancing a career.

No doubt many mourners of Antonin Scalia saw in his death a sacred moment requiring respect for the person, his family and friends. With heads bowed in silence and hearts filled with compassion, and with prayers for them, the moment was celebrated with dignity.

Other mourners have undoubtedly gone through many of the same motions. They are motions, however, lacking in warmth, heartfelt sympathy and genuine compassion.

Father Hemrick, a syndicated columnist with Catholic News Service, is a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill.,who serves as a research associate with the Life Cycle Institute at Catholic University, Washington, D.C. He has been in residence at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill parish since the summer of 1996.

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