Saturday, December 5, 2009

For Larry, Who Served at Funerals All These Years

Posted by Webster
I had a singular honor Friday morning. I served at the altar for a funeral for the first time. And not just any funeral. Larry, the deceased, had served at funerals for years. I am now “in the rotation,” effectively taking Larry’s place. Someday, another man will serve at my funeral. As long as Father Barnes is celebrating, no problem.

Ferde, a regular altar server for funerals, has the same requirement, by the way—that Father Barnes celebrate his funeral mass. In fact, Ferde has pretty much ordered the padre not to take another post until Ferde dies. No plum parish. No bishopric. No call to Rome. Father's staying put until Ferde's ready for his reward. At least, that's how Ferde sees it.

I get Ferde's viewpoint better after Friday's funeral. Father Barnes gave a beautiful homily. Noting scaffolding that was set up to the side of the nave, Father said he had wanted to remove the scaffolding for the funeral. But Nina, the parish secretary, had pointed out that Larry would have loved the scaffolding. Because Larry was always working, offering his services, helping out. His daughter later called him the "mayor of the neighborhood." If anyone had anything that needed doing, Larry was there to help out.

The Gospel was Matthew 25: 31–46:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goat. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me. Then the righteous will answer him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and we give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you? And the king will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me." Then they will answer and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?" He will answer them, "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me." And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Speaking softly, Father B said that he was pretty sure Larry, when he got to heaven, would be surprised to find himself in the line of sheep on the right hand of the Lord. I naturally thought about what our pastor would say if I up and died, and my funeral were held on Monday. I have a feeling that, even if I did finally deserve to be included among those on the right, I would find myself behind Larry in line.

A funeral has a way of making a man take stock. Samuel Johnson (quoted by Chesterton in Orthodoxy) wrote, “Nothing so focuses a man's mind as the knowledge he is to hang at dawn.” When Thomas More was in jail awaiting execution at the hands of Henry VIII, he and his daughter wrote meditations on The Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

I have a feeling that serving at more funerals will do as much as anything to earn me a place closer to the head of Larry’s line. Serving is the key to many things. Thanks, Larry, for letting me take your place, at least for one day.