A life of faith is never unaided by grace and always with constant companionship of the Holy Spirit
Posted on May 20th 2012 in Weekly messages
Recent years have seen a steady increase in the number of requests for pop songs at funerals, and my own experience has been for requests such as Tom Jones or Westlife. Judging by the emotions of the congregation such songs provide more spiritual sustenance than the traditional prayers or readings of the Church. Such music is often profoundly solipsistic and self-centred, with the focus on the mourners rather than the deceased. Requests to have Edith Piaf’s ‘Je ne regret rien’ or Frank Sinatra ‘I did it my way’ are often vain attempts to transform a life of dull, low level sinfulness into the stuff of Greek tragedy.
Perhaps it is all too easy to dismiss these unformed emotional outpouring at funerals since it may be that the Church has failed to communicate the richness of her message both about the human condition and about the relationship that Jesus Christ wishes to establish with every believer within His ‘Body’, the Church community. The desire for a Church funeral points to some grasp that the Church is the correct place to begin. However, it is the content of such of the Church’s teaching that fails to grasp the attention.
The more old-fashioned talk about the immortality of the soul leads naturally to questions of responsibility for one’s actions, and their consequences, on this earth and beyond. This is not to be fixated with guilt, or to turn the voice of conscience into a judgemental parent. To reflect on responsibility is also to discern the paths and purposes of life. It is into this situation that Jesus Christ offers His friendship and companionship. This friendship will extend beyond the barrier of death and into eternal life. The developing friendship will, through the action of grace and human co-operation, transform all life.
The Solemnity of the Ascension opens up earth to heaven, as the resurrected Jesus takes His humanity into the sphere of God while at the same time sending the Holy Spirit onto the Eleven gazing up into the sky. Their joy at that moment on the hillside of Bethany will be short lived, and soon that joy will be replaced by fear. It will not be until the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the nascent community that the Apostles will discover the strength to fulfil the mandate given by the risen Jesus to evangelise the world. The bestowal of the Holy Spirit at the Ascension points to the common destiny to which the believer is called to share with the risen Jesus. This eternal destiny gives purpose to human life on earth here and now. The physical lives of real people have eternal significance. No human life is perfect, and so the funeral Liturgy of the Church focuses on the need to pray for the deceased rather than confirm them in their moral choices. This is not to belittle the deceased, nor to deprecate their moral lives, but to emphasise that the destiny to which every believer is called is beyond purely human achievement. If it were open to human achievement alone then the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus would be nothing more than a good example, a higher form of human life that may be placed amongst other remarkable human beings.
The Christian message is that the life of faith is never undertaken unaided by grace, nor in solitude, but is undertaken within the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit, which gathers believers into the Church, and who dispenses the infinite mercy of God. The Solemnity of the Ascension helps explain why the Church, within which the believer lives his or her faith, may be described as the ‘Body of Christ’. The immortality of the resurrected body now becomes an article of Christian faith that complements the immortality of the soul, a fact open to intellectual discovery. The Ascension demonstrates that it is the whole person who is saved, body and soul.