Family members place flowers on the casket of Angela Hampson following a committal service at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, N.Y., Oct. 21. Catholic cemeteries "have a huge opportunity to evangelize and a responsibility to stand for what the church represents," says Andrew Schafer, executive director of the Archdiocese of Newark Catholic Cemeteries in New Jersey. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Family members place flowers on the casket of Angela Hampson following a committal service at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, N.Y., Oct. 21. Catholic cemeteries "have a huge opportunity to evangelize and a responsibility to stand for what the church represents," says Andrew Schafer, executive director of the Archdiocese of Newark Catholic Cemeteries in New Jersey. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Death and taxes! These two things no one can avoid. Even though we know this, we are often not ready for either one. It’s November, the month where we pray for the faithful departed, and not April, the month where sometimes we feel like the IRS may be trying to do us in, so let’s talk turkey about funerals.

“I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” These are not just words in the Creed we say at Mass every Sunday, but they are the basis of who we are and everything we do as Christians. We must have our feet on the Earth but our hearts set on Heaven. For this reason, I actually enjoy a good funeral.  A good funeral!? When the deceased has lived a good and faithful life, the experience is a moment of hope for all because we realize God created us for eternity.

Even the most challenging loss professes that Jesus conquered death forever on the cross for this very reason. There are some really sad funerals, too. A funeral is both sad and tragic when the dead, or their family, were not ready and had not seen beyond the clouds of this world to encounter the heaven of Jesus’ eternal love.

Having celebrated countless funeral Masses, I can testify that being ready really makes a difference, both practically and spiritually. Since death is the one thing none of us will avoid, start a private file and let a few important people in your life know about it.  To help guide your preparation, I offer five ways to plan a great a great send-off.

  1. The Mass– When I meet with a family to help them plan a funeral Mass, I first want to hear about the deceased. Even if I knew the person, it was only from my perspective. Although the memories evoke laughter and tears at the same time, the experience is often overwhelming. So when we begin to decide on readings and music, the family is often left at a loss. Make it a little easier on them and start to plan. Begin listening for the Scripture readings that speak to you, as well as  sacred music you like best throughout the liturgical year. Write them down and put them in the file. Remember that a funeral is not ultimately about you, but about how God loves you so completely, He sent his Son Jesus to win the victory of Heaven for all of us.
  2. Eulogies – In days gone by, the wake usually took place in the home. Friends and family would gather, a few toasts may be made and many stories were told. Good memories are an important way for us to mourn and recall God’s goodness to us.  As this tradition has evolved, mourners still need to tell their tales. If done well, eulogies in church can be a wonderful way to begin the celebration of a person’s life. If done poorly, they can sound like a bachelor party roast or, even worse, the  eulogist’s therapy session. Pick one person to give a few words, but be clear on your expectations; the talk should neither be confession nor canonization, but words of gratitude on your behalf to those who love you.
  3. Location – God gave us both a body and soul because our destiny is to be like the resurrected Jesus who allowed the Apostles feel the nail marks in His hands and place their hands into His wounded side. As believers in Jesus, we honor the body in this life in expectation of our resurrection. We bury or inter our remains in sacred places, set aside for others to gather in prayer and to await the final judgment. Location matters so get a plan together with a funeral service, visit your local Catholic cemetery and pick a spot for your rest. Those who have these plans in place really give a great gift for your grieving loved ones.
  4. Heart – As important as practical plans are, there are still more significant details to which we must tend: those of the heart and soul. Oftentimes the  person crying the hardest at a funeral is not the daughter that visited mom all the time. It’s the one who did not, and it’s heartbreaking. Do some risk management and reach out to people from whom you have been away. Forgive  and tell them you love them.  As I have often said in these pages, Heaven is a grudge free zone!  
  5. Soul – Now the most important element of all: JESUS!!  Don’t let your funeral be the first time you have been to church is a while. It’s never to late to come home.  Don’t presume there is plenty of runway left before you take off. If you live today as if it were you last day, you will not waste a minute in making the most of it, especially experiencing Him who desires to be with us forever.