I remember, many years ago now, going to a funeral for the husband of a woman in our parish who was well-respected as a spiritual director and prayer warrior. The funeral mass was anything but sad because it was a celebration of life and God’s gift of a single man to this world, this parish community, and this faith-filled woman. I saw her after the liturgy had ended and all had gone. I gave her my observation of the event, an observation I knew she believed in as well. I said, “That funeral was beautiful. Church is often at it’s best at a funeral.” She had lost the love of her life, but she could not have agreed more.
A few days ago, on Memorial Day of all days, I attended another funeral for a young man lost to this world and his family and friends all too soon. This time it was his mother that was and is a strong presence in the parish community. Well over 1000 people gathered to mourn the loss of his earthly life. But more importantly, well over 1000 people formed a community that day with no divisions and no prejudice. People came from his high school, his college, his sports teams, and his neighborhood. And they came from his parish family. Some who had left for years now returned. People who only attend one particular Mass on a weekend sat with people from all the other Masses. More people sang than usual, more people actively prayed than usual, and more people were truly mindful of their presence in that holy space. All of these people, united by love and respect for a young man no longer there in body.
I talked to one friend at the reception who had moved away some years ago. She said it was a shame that she didn’t find the time to return for a visit more often. I remarked that even if that be the case, there was no better time to return than now because everyone is here for this funeral. It sounded perhaps odd, that this event was a good thing. And I absolutely meant what I said.
The reality is that Christian community is always strongest in the face of tragedy. We can easily say that it is unfortunate that we can’t all come together as strong when times are good. But deep down, we don’t really believe that. In fact, it is precisely at the toughest times we want and we need community in Jesus Christ to be the strongest. For this woman who lost her beloved son, there will always be pain. But at the time when her greatest fears were realized, she encountered such overwhelming love that she could say, “One day at a time,” and mean it. For all gathered, they also encountered a movement of love that might be as close as it gets to heaven. For heaven is not where we jump around endlessly with a silly grin on our face. Heaven is where the frailty of our human lives are no longer a hinderance to us and we are one with the Divine for eternity. That Memorial Day, this young man was experiencing that reality. For the rest of us, the Body of Christ, we caught a glimpse of it too.
Rest in Peace, Griffin.