This morning, Jesus talks to us about the talents He gives and the legacy we leave behind. The Talents in the story include a whole host of things: it's His grace, His heart that He entrusts to us (cf. the first reading), this faith, this life. But the question is whether the soul that receives these gifts puts them to use for His legacy: that is, do we grow, do we love, do we bring more people to the faith?-- that's the five talents making five more.
So the problem with the last servant is that he did not leave a legacy. Indeed, he buried his talents. This is the irony: when he buries the talents, he isn't just burying the talents, he is burying himself. His life was meant to glorify God. But instead, he lived as though dead.
Today, we conclude our three-part series on death and dying. And today's gospel gives us the theme: what kind of legacy am I leaving behind?
Before we go there, I know that there are a couple of questions that people have regarding cremation and the funeral Mass. Let's answer those first.
When we consider cremation, we must first remember that the human person not only has dignity, but is also imbued with glory: the Christian was a temple of the Holy Spirit. Each one of our bodies was the place of God's glory. We pray that in our short lives, this glory shined forth.
At a funeral Mass, we are reminded of this glory when the body is brought forward and the priest blesses it with holy water, recalling that the person had received the light of Christ in baptism and had become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Great talents, those! Death, however, has now claimed the mortal body. Nevertheless, we still honor the body because it was once the temple.
When it comes to cremation, it was once prohibited because there existed widespread pagan beliefs that the body was bad or that the resurrection didn't exist-- and so those that did cremation did so badly, from a position of doubt or from disdain of the body. Today, the Church allows cremation so long as the person did not hold such doubtful or disdainful positions. When cremation is done, it is preferred that it be done after the funeral Mass (for the reasons mentioned above: ie, to revere the sanctity of the body).
We must also note, however, that while cremation is allowed, it is not necessarily preferred. The reason for this is because there have arisen some abuses regarding it. For example, there is a growing trend of people keeping the remains of their loved ones-- on their mantle, in amulets, I've even seen in potted plants. Unfortunately, in many of those cases, the remains are lost or even thrown away-- not out of malice, but simple neglect or forgetfulness. Our loved ones deserve better than that. This is why the Church points out that, if a person is cremated, they must be buried in a cemetery or columbarium-- some place stable that connects also to the tomb of Christ and which, in turn, gives us and our future generations the reminder to pray. Too many souls are forgotten and not prayed for when they just become another piece of furniture.
For much the same reason, remains are not to be scattered.
If you do have the remains of a loved one, please let me or your priest know and we can perform the rite of committal (burial).
Let us turn to the funeral Mass.
When it comes to the funeral Mass, we must remember that it is a Mass. And at the center of the Mass is Jesus. The center is not the dead person, but what Jesus has done and is doing for the person.
A funeral Mass, therefore, is supposed to be a time not simply to remember but to pray. We reflect: what Talents did Jesus give this person in life-- Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, vocation? Did they make five Talents more?
This is where the funeral Mass is supposed to draw us in: we are to be reminded that death comes for us, too, and that we will be judged; did I make five talents more?
I don't know about you, but when I die, I don't want people to say how awesome I was (I'm not, and I won't care). I will want people asking Jesus to be merciful. That's what we are doing at the funeral.
Readings, Homilies, Music, and eulogies (if there absolutely must be one) should highlight this and not avoid it. One of the best homilies/eulogies in this regard is the homily that Father Scalia gave at the funeral for his father, Justice Scalia. Go to the Youtube video-- it's worth your time.
A final word about the funeral Mass: plan ahead. When my dad died unexpectedly, it was difficult for me and my brothers and sister and their spouses to both grieve and plan a funeral. Save your family that difficulty and meet with a priest to discuss your funeral. I know, it sounds morbid, but it will help your family and it will help you to focus anew on Jesus whom you will meet at the end.
After the burial, we pray for the dead. You notice that at every single Catholic Mass, we pray for the dead. And oftentimes there is a particular person that we mention by name. That is because the family has asked the parish to pray for their beloved in a particular way-- the Mass is offered for him or her. Have Masses offered for your beloved dead. Simply ask me to do so or visit the parish office and ask Julia there. There is no cost (we don't sell Sacraments). If you want to give a donation, that will be just fine.
Know too that at every Mass you can offer your holy communion for your beloved dead and for all the souls in purgatory. A very good prayer is the prayer of St. Gertrude, a prayer given to her by Jesus Himself, promising her that if she said it with her heart, souls would be brought to heaven. The holy communion that you receive is so very powerful-- it is Jesus! Unite your love to His and say at communion, "Jesus, bring me and those I offer you in my heart now-- bring us to heaven!"
Many saints have pointed out that when you pray for a soul in purgatory and it is then brought to heaven, that soul in heaven prays for you. So, pray for the dead! When you think of it: it's a great investment! Some people here have brought many souls to heaven and now have many souls in heaven praying for them. That's awesome. That's five talents making five more!
Finally, do have a will. I say this because I have seen too many families ripped apart because of bickering and fighting over the parents' estate. Be generous, but also be clear.
And continue to show where your priorities are: leave a gift to the parish church and school. If you are able, let's start an endowment.
And, I know, some may say: "Sure, the priest is asking for money now." No, I'm not good at that or "The Ask." I just know that there is an opportunity to do good and I'm inviting people to participate in that. After all, if we are bringing souls to heaven here, I think that warrants not a token donation but true investment. Right?
Our goal is to leave a legacy of faith. When I meet with couples to have their children baptized or engaged couples who want to get married, the Number One Thing they say is that they have received the faith and want to pass it on to their children. Of course, what often passes us by is that, generally speaking, each new generation is doing less than the previous generation. Kids are doing less than their parents who did less than their parents. In such cases, we aren't making five talents more, but less.
A good examination of conscience here is to ask yourself this question: when I die, will I have left my children a faith strong enough to get them through my death-- and not only to get through it, but to turn to Jesus in it? Have I left my children a relationship with Jesus that they can grow in and know how to grow in? Have I left my children not only a knowledge of prayer but a practice of prayer such that, when I die, they will be offering Masses for me, praying for me, visiting my grave and then turning to their family to encourage a higher way of living?
I look at my young people here with us. I want you to do more than I am doing. Do more than me and your parents. Don't just follow me, I want you to learn how to lead with me and make more talents than what God gave you initially.
I know these have been heavy topics over the past three weeks and your patience has been wonderful. Let us pray for our beloved dead now. And let us also turn to Jesus and ask Him for the wisdom and strength that we may do His will. Let us use the Talents He gives us so that, when we die, not only will we be brought to heaven, but we will bring a litany of saints behind us: we will have used our talent and made many, many more. An eternal legacy.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.