Tuesday, August 11, 2009

An Arm-and-a-Half Embrace

Mom's brother, my uncle Bob, died three weeks ago.

The Parents and Brother had just arrived for their Estes camping vacation that Saturday. They'd put up their tents in the rain that night; the weather for the week was forecasted to be cool and rainy. And the next morning, since they were incommunicado, I was the one who was contacted and then had to tell them about Bob's death.

We drove up to Wyoming Wednesday morning. It was a 10 hour drive to Lovell, where Bob lived, near the Montana border. We arrived at the motel--the same motel we stayed at when we visited Bob in 1993 on the way home from our camping trip to Yellowstone--an hour before the memorial service and then met up with some of the other family members.

Uncle Bob was cremated and placed in a little black box at the front of the funeral home, and in the back was a table covered with pictures of Bob with friends and family, which was helpful considering there was no body to view. One picture in particular stood out to me: Bob held Grandma Anderson in an enormous arm-and-a-half embrace. The picture was taken within the last year or so, and they both had beaming smiles. A loving mother and son, both of whom have now left us.

One of the unfortunate things that I've seen happen recently at funerals is the immediate canonization of the dead. For example, at the memorial service, one of Bob's former co-workers made the remark, "We know he's in a better place, and now he's got his lost arm back." But this thinking is foreign to the Gospel or Church teaching.

First, the dead don't have bodies; that won't happen until the Resurrection of the Dead when Christ comes at the end of time. But more importantly, we can't know with certainty the destination of a soul; it's presumptuous to assume that someone has gone straight to heaven. That only happens if someone dies loving God perfectly. We can't judge the hearts of men (only their actions), and we must persevere to the end in order to be saved, Christ tells us.

However, not only the Jews who believed in the Resurrection but also the early Church Fathers taught that it was good and holy to pray for the dead, that those who did not love God wholeheartedly may be purified, perfected in love and holiness, and enter into heaven. That's why I pray for my deceased loved ones on Monday mornings and Friday evenings and at every Mass in which I participate.

May the host of angels greet Bob and carry him to the arms of Our Loving and Merciful Savior.