There is a cliche phrase among preachers – the church comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. When you flip the verbs you get a club and not the church – the club comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted. To get that phrase what you need to understand is that comfortable and afflicted is said in relation to the individual conscience and sin. If the person is comfortable in sin, you preach the law and afflict them. If the person is afflicted with doubt and guilt, you preach the gospel of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. (There is a big strike against this in practice as it requires a church and a ministry willing to draw conclusions – i.e. go read 1 Corinthians 5 which would go over like a lead balloon in most congregations.)
The reason I’m poking around here is a relevant pop-culture item, the death and funeral of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Here are four links: WJS, ABC, RNS, and Roman Deacon Greg Kandra.
Mr. Hoffman was baptized Roman Catholic, but was not evidently practicing at the time of death. His death was the result of heroin overdose. He was also reportedly estranged form the mother of his three children to whom he was never married. There was a funeral mass today at St. Ignatius church in NYC. The priest-presider had this to say.
“Phil Hoffman was not only a baptized Catholic but also a person with a lovely soul, and so deserves a Catholic funeral,” Martin told Deacon Greg Kandra in a column for CNN. “And Pope Francis reminds that the sacraments aren’t for perfect people; they are for the rest of us.”
Deacon Kandra’s post, feeling the need to explain something, does a great job of trying to explain and filling in the relevant sections of Roman Catholic Canon Law. One particular passage he quotes is this:
A funeral Mass can be celebrated for most Catholics, but there are some specific cases in which canon law requires the denial of a funeral Mass. Canons 1184-1185 say:
“Canon 1184 §1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:
1/ notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;
2/ those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;
3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.
Turning on evil Parson Brown (i.e. you won’t probably like the following guy). A pointed question might be how does this not give scandal to the faithful? How did Mr. Hoffman, a public figure, not ring canon 1184. We are not talking about some anonymous person here whose funeral entourage would be 15-20 people, but someone who has received coverage from national networks. Evil Parson looks at this and say the only message getting out is that you can do whatever you want, live however you want, and the church will still say “yes, yes, he’s in a better place.” Take special note of the Priest’s comment that the deceased was “a lovely soul who deserved a Catholic funeral”. And then the nice segue into questioning anyone who might be so nasty as to question – “sacraments aren’t for perfect people, but the rest of us”. Isn’t there quite a bit of difference between the Christmas & Easter Christian who didn’t worry much about these things but who never-the-less was a present father, who actually married the mother of his kids, who works a job every day to pay taxes and keep clothes on everyone and an actor who shot heroin leaving his children fatherless and never married the mother of his kids? Since when is the deceased “the rest of us”? And that doesn’t get to evil Parson’s problem with “deserving a Catholic funeral” because he was a “lovely soul”? Can Catholic Priests now see the soul, or read the hearts? The advice we get from Jesus on such things is that “you will know them by their fruits” not by reading lovely souls. And for that matter, none of us deserve the sacraments. We are granted them by grace. They are received by faith. They do no good absent faith, even if you have a lovely soul, which can’t really be lovely without the indwelling of the Spirit. Turning off evil Parson; He’s getting a little grumpy.
What does a funeral in the church say? Is it possible to hold a funeral for someone who the best thing you can say is “he was baptized”, and for any message other than “yeah, what we teach is a bunch of bunk that we don’t really believe” be the one received? The current conventional wisdom, to not be evil Parson, is that you do the funeral for the living and use it as a chance to “preach the gospel”. My question is: can anyone hear that gospel today over the yell that is simply doing a funeral such as the above, or is all anyone hears “the church doesn’t even believe what it preaches” simply because of the act. What does a funeral in the church say? That is a serious question which we should answer.