The Good Funeral
It was the funeral of a man named George. In St. James Church were the relatives and friends of the deceased. His widow was present along with their surviving adult children and grandchildren. Many of his co-workers and friends from the club were all present. The mood was subdued as George's passing was unexpected. He had died at the age of 64 from a massive heart attack, of which he did not recover. Next to the altar was a closed casket that displayed a framed photograph of George. There were a number of flowers all around the casket as well as a number of sympathy cards.
The priest came forth to the pulpit and gave the audience a sad smile. He was of similar age of George, a friendly priest by all accounts popular with the community. "I knew George for the last ten years, and in those years I saw him commit to many great works of charity to our church. He went to church every week, volunteered for the Knights of Columbus, played Bingo every Wednesday, and occasionally worked at the soup kitchen. He was a man blessed with a great family having three children and five grandchildren. He was well loved by his co-workers at the company he worked with and had many friends. He was a hard worker but he also knew when to stop everything and take time for prayer and the reading of the scriptures," the priest said glowingly.
"Today, I know that George is smiling from above pleased to see the great gathering today. George was an example for us all and during this time of grief and mourning we can appreciate his life. We must always remember that death can come for us at any moment. As the scriptures say, Christ shall come for us like a thief in the night. So, we must always be prepared. George was prepared," the priest continued.
The priest then paused to allow his words to sink in and then motioned for his wife Clare to take the pulpit. The priest went back to his chair as Clare slowly made her way up the stairs to the podium. She was dressed in the traditional black. She was of the same age as George and the priest with short white hair. She had been given many sympathy letters and conversations over the last few days. In her eyes were fresh tears, and her face was tightly controlled to conceal how she felt on the inside. As she spoke, she was given the greatest attention, even more than the priest.
"Thank you very much for coming today," she said while nearly chocking up. "George…would have appreciated it," she added.
"I thank you Father John for your kind words," she said turning to speak directly to him behind her.
She turned back to the congregation and looked over her notes while putting her eyeglasses on to read it. After a short pause she put her glasses down and looked over the crowd. Her fingers trembled as she thought about what she would say. "Yes, it is true that George did many good things, but I ask that you pray for him. Even those among you that are not Catholic, I ask that you pray for him. God doesn't ignore anyone's prayers and no one's prayers are ever for nothing. George no longer needs anyone's praise," she began.
The crowd became a little uncomfortable but remained respectfully quiet as she continued. "I am far from perfect. I have committed sins in my life I am not proud of. Some of them I have confessed and some of them I have kept for years. When the time comes I will need the Lord's mercy. But today isn't about me. It's about George and if you love him you will pray for his soul. We…Catholics believe in purgatory, a place where souls are purified of their sins. And Catholics believe that if we pray for these souls they may enter Heaven quicker. I know it sounds Medieval, but it is what I believe. And over these last few days that's all I have thought about," she said.
At this point even the priest was becoming uncomfortable, but made no attempt to stop her. "A year ago George had an affair with a woman at work. I discovered it and he ended it, and it was a tough time in our marriage. I believe he asked God for forgiveness but there is always repentance that is required for every sin that we commit. Whether or not…it has been satisfied only God knows, but for the rest of my life I will being praying for him. I am going to do so…because I love him so much, and I do not wish him to suffer," she revealed.
There was some hushed chatter among the crowd. Some considered the audacity of Clare's eulogy while others speculated as to who the woman was. Was she among them? Clare wiped away her tears. "A funeral is not for us…not for us. It is for the soul who has died. We are here to help bring George to Heaven. Please, help George, please pray for him."
Clare then stepped down and went back into the pews and there was silence at St. James for a minute. But then noise filled the church as everyone proceeded to go to their knees. The priest looked over the congregation in wonder and he too took a knee.
Far away from St. James Church in the middle of a desert a long chain of men and women marched towards a large mountain. They were clothed in rags and had no shoes. Their hair was disheveled and their bodies were dusty. They all wore heavy chains that were linked to each other, and as they slowly walked some of them sung hymns. The wind was fierce blowing dust into the air that blinded them and made it difficult to hear the hymns. Their throats were dry and their bodies were tired. The line of chained captives seemed endless and the mountain before them ended at the clouds. It was a hot and lifeless land.
A man dressed in white was there to encourage them. Despite the dust and dirt his clothes were always clean and his hair was perfect. He walked with the captives giving them encouragement from time to time while reading from his book. Suddenly, the man in white stopped as if bewildered. He looked among the captives and found a man in heavy chains. The man in white stopped the train of captives and unlocked the chains of this captive. The chains fell off and hit the ground where they then disappeared.
"Come with me," the man in white said to him.
"Why has this happened to me?" the captive asked in a hoarse voice.
"The living has prayed for your deliverance. You may now walk with me free of chains on the way up the mountain, not because of any merit you have earned, but because the Lord keeps his promises to the faithful. Through the grace of our Lord your soul may be purified," the man in white said.
The captive looked at those still in chains. "Can I pray for them so they may not have to go up the mountain in their chains?" he asked.
"No, only the living can free them from their chains," the man in white said.
"Then may I stay here a while and give my thanks to those who have freed me?" the captive asked.
"You may for a moment for we have a long journey ahead of us," the man in white said.
The captive got on his knees in the dust. "Thank you Clare."