Monday, April 30, 2012

A Most Unusual Funeral

A few weeks ago I received an email that really upset me.  It was about a funeral that was going to be held to bury the "unclaimed" dead in a city nearby.  The email explained that there were over 70 unclaimed dead that had never been given a proper burial.  I was so saddened by this email.  I couldn't imagine the number of "unclaimed" dead across our country if we had over 70 just in a nearby city.  How could this happen?

The email was not only asking for donations towards the funeral expenses, but inviting people to participate in their Christian duty by coming to bury the dead or by praying for them.  I quickly sent this email out to everyone I thought could and would help out---either financially or with prayers.  Then I added it to my calendar and shared the email with my husband and kids.  We added these unclaimed and those in other cities to our prayer list.

This email stuck with me for several weeks as I kept thinking about how awful it was for the families of these men and women not to have the finances to bury their deceased or how awful it was for the deceased not to have any family to bury them.  Over time, life got busy and my own problems pushed out the thought of this funeral and the unclaimed.

But in the week leading up to the funeral, our kids' Catechism lesson happened to be on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  When we began reading over the lesson, it hit me that we were going to have the perfect "field trip" to end this lesson.  I checked the calendar to find that we would be putting our learning into action right away.  The Holy Spirit had perfectly planned this for us to "practice what we preach."

Saturday morning rolled around, and Satan did his best to try to foil our plans.  Does he do that to any other family besides ours?  Anytime we try to get out the door to anything "holy," he slips into our house and causes chaos!  But when he does this, I know that whatever we are heading to must be really important to our spiritual growth.  The more chaos, the more I know we are supposed to be there.

We finally end up getting on the road later than planned with some unhappy travelers.  We had missed the rosary for these unclaimed souls, so we decided to say one on our 45 minute drive for those souls and for ourselves and the chaos the devil had caused in our home earlier.  The tears started to flow as I thought of how lucky, yet ungrateful we are to have each other and so many others in our lives that love and care for us.

We arrived at the Cathedral and found an empty pew.  Soon some of our homeschooling friends entered and sat near us.  I thought to myself how wonderfully, blessed I am to have such a great group of friends to help me along on this new journey.  The huge church seemed empty.  I was a little sad by this.  I wished more people would have shown up to honor these people.

I opened the program and began to read the names and ages of all whose remains would be buried that day.  I was overcome with emotion.  There were 93 names on this list.  Thirteen of them were infants with names like Baby Gianna, Baby Joseph, Baby Rita, etc.  Thirteen unclaimed, unnamed babies.  And the waterworks began again.  I had not thought about the fact that I would need Kleenex at a funeral for people I didn't know.  Had I known how emotional I would get, I would have brought in a case!

My eyes dried just as the side door opens and people begin to pour into the church.   They kept coming and coming and coming until the Cathedral was just about filled.  The tears began to well up again, but this time they were joyful tears.  How wonderful that so many people had shown up to participate in their Christian duty---on a Saturday, with beautiful Spring weather, when a huge festival was going on in this town.  Then a group of nuns entered and then another group---Oh, how I love to see nuns in habits! The second group were the Missionary of Charity sisters that we had gone to help out at Christmas time.  Seeing Mother Theresa's sisters again made my heart smile!

Then some of the Knights of Columbus entered in full uniform---swords and all.  I got the chills as I looked at one knight standing across the isle from me.  I am pretty sure I saw the face of Jesus.  He had long hair, a long beard, and the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen.  He even looked up to Heaven and spoke to someone that I did not see.   As I was contemplating this, the Bishop entered.  Wow, buried by the Bishop, what an honor for these 93 unclaimed dead that had been forgotten for all these years!  And the tears came again.

I had assumed that these 93 had been cremated and that this was just a "service" for them.  I did not expect to see caskets rolled in.  So, my heart sank as the first one passed by me.  It was a very small silver casket which contained the remains of the thirteen unclaimed babies.  The tears began to pour.  The next casket was a light brown one which I assumed were the unclaimed women.  The third casket was rolled in and stopped right next to me.  This was a darker one which I presumed to have the unclaimed men. 

The Mass began and as I listened to the readings, the psalm, and then the gospel, I knew exactly why we had been called to be here.  It was exactly what we needed to hear.  As the gospel reading of the Judgement of the Nations began (Matthew 25: 31-46), I looked over at my husband.  He knew too!  This was the passage that had become our Life Theme the past few years without us even knowing it.  The past few months it has come up numerous times.  And here it was for the second time this week.  Confirming the call that we already knew deep down in our hearts.

The homily also was very moving as the Bishop compared a "regular" funeral homily to this one.  He stated how he would normally console the family gathered and share about the good things the deceased had done in his/her life.  He went on to explain that we were family.  That we are all family.  That we are all God's children.  He talked about how we are ALL called to take care of each other especially those that aren't able to return the favor.  He referred to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy which my kids had just studied and the main reason we were here---to do what we were trying to teach them to do.  They all sat up a little taller, proud that we had come to do our part as Christians. 

The Mass ended, and we followed the three caskets to the cemetery behind the Cathedral.  Veterans and American flags lined the sidewalk to honor those United States Veterans that had been forgotten and unclaimed.  It was very moving to see them all lined up paying their respects to these unknown fellow soldiers.   The memorial that was built to house the caskets of these men and women was beautiful.  The 80 names of the adults were listed on the side of the memorial grave.  The graveside ceremony began and, of course, the tears did too.

Then a veteran called the others in attendance to attention as the trumpet began to play.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband, an Air Force veteran, snap to attention.  It was almost too much for me to handle.  There are no words to describe how proud I was of him at that moment---proud to call him my husband, proud of the example he is to our kids.  He had grown so much since that day we said, "I do."  We had both grown so much.  I was so blessed!

By this point, I'm not sure if there was a dry eye anywhere around.  Everything seemed to stand still except the breeze which I knew was the Holy Spirit bringing the peace that I know we all felt.  We then moved to another area of the cemetery to lay the babies to rest in the mausoleum.  As they lifted the casket into that hole in the wall, I imagined those sweet babies resting in the arms of Jesus and Mother Mary.  I knew that they were not "unclaimed" as they had been labeled.  They were claimed from the very beginning as Children of the Most High God.

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