I’m 82 years old, or as a rather insensitive friend said to me last week, “not right, John, you are actually only 8 years from 90″. That mathematical switch went through me like a knife. I thought it over and realized that while the math was identical, the emotional response varied somewhat.
I wonder if it’s because I am in the ninth decade that I am suddenly becoming aware that people I have known for so long have a tendency to move on ahead of me. It certainly is food for thought…and I’m thinking!
I have been molded and formed by the Roman Catholic faith, and although it has many rough edges, it is extraordinarily optimistic. Catholicism has always held that human nature is essentially good, but weak. Martin Luther, on the other hand (who has a moderate amount of influence in the Christian story) always taught that human nature was essentially corrupt, and only faith in Jesus Christ could overcome the evil that was innate in the human condition. These thoughts pass through my mind as I find myself journeying from funeral to funeral. Funerals are profoundly important. They bring together people who have not seen each other in years. They create an atmosphere that calls for reconciliation. Tears flow. But laughter abounds!
All of this is even more true for people who are Irish. “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through temporary periods of joy” (W.B. Yeats).
If I said that I enjoyed funerals, I would be misunderstood, because they are usually connected with sadness. But, if a person is committed to the Christian faith, that sadness should be seen as a short term, immediate reality, and beyond the pain is a vestibule opening into eternal life & eternal joy.
There is so much real tragedy, so much agonizingly unnecessary suffering in the world, that we Christians should give an example of hope, optimism and joy when someone we love escapes into eternal life.
Does that mean we are not to cry, not to shed tears when we experience the agonizing loss of a loved one? Not at all. But with the eyes of faith, look beyond that casket. See through that tombstone. See the purpose for which each one of us came into being, which is now being fulfilled.