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Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Funerals

First of all, I must apologize for not blogging yesterday. A severe migraine sidelined me and I figured I needed the rest to recouperate.

This morning, I came across this rather interesting, but, sad, account of a Vigil for the Deceased involving actor/talk show host Tony Danza, of "Taxi" and "Who's the Boss" fame. According to our friends at the Creative Minority Report blog:

Tony Danza: Shut Up About God Already!!

It seems that Danza, a Catholic, got more than miffed that the priest was preaching about God rather than eulogizing the deceased, one of the actor's closest friends. Danza's anger got the better of him, to put it politely, prompting him to get up and tell the priest to stop talking about God and to say something about the deceased. Later on, when it was Danza's turn, someone heckled the actor during his remarks.

This account is sad on many levels. First of all, while eulogies can certainly occur during the Vigil of the Deceased, these are not the primary purpose of the service. The main reason why the Church has funeral rites is to pray for the suffrage of the deceased. The priest/deacon is there to both offer prayers for the repose of the soul of the deceased and to offer comfort and guidance to the survivors. Furthermore, when we start eulogizing the deceased, often times, such commentary can turn into a quasi-canonization. At least insofar as the celebrant goes, they can try to relate the Paschal mystery to the life of the deceased, but, the faithful departed should not overshadow the great mystery of salvation.

Second, Danza's actions are, in my opinion, a symptom of something deeper that is plaguing our society today. It seems to me that we have been completely anesthetized about the issue of death. We turn funerals into a "celebration of the life" of the deceased, rather than facing the cold, hard reality of death. Especially in this month of November, where the Church compels us to remember the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell, we need to delve into that mystery and focus on this, even during non-funeral liturgies.

Third, Danza was just plain rude. Regardless of whether or not the service took place in a church or in the funeral home, one does not take it upon himself to interrupt the priest and bully his way into a rite, no matter who he is. On TV, he may have been able to have his way, but, Danza, in my opinion, showed a complete lack of charity to all involved, including the deceased.

In contrast, I am reminded of a man that I during my 12 years of working at the Texas House of Representatives. He was a Republican lawmaker from Seguin and a very good Christian man. State Rep. Edmund Kuempel died on November 4, 2010, after suffering a massive heart attack. I bring him up because the media's funeral account was both surprising and refreshing. His widow, Birdie, asked that the funeral, held in the Lutheran Church Kuempel attended since its beginning, focus on the late legislator's faith in Christ, rather than on the deceased.

I have fond memories of Edmund Kuempel. Whether one was custodial staff or the Speaker of the House, Kuempel treated each person with respect, greeting the men with a firm handshake and the women with a kiss on the cheek and, in my case, an occasional bear-hug. He was also a man of quiet and deep faith. Somehow, Mrs. Kuempel's request did not surprise me. The Lutheran pastor told the mourners that if they had come to hear testimonials about Edmund Kuempel's life and humor, they would be in for a disappointment because the late representative wanted to, instead, focus on Christ.

The day Kuempel died, I received word via a text message. I prayed for the repose of his soul. Later on, as I read the accounts of his funeral, I hoped that the mourners were able to come away with some insight into his faith in Christ. If only Danza could learn that lesson.

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