Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 15, 2017
The Readings on this 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, take me back several years to the early and tragic death of a celebrity.
St. Paul’s self-description in our Second Reading (Phil 2:12-14, 19-20) tells us that he knew “how to live in humble circumstances.” But, Paul goes on to say that he also knew “how to live with abundance.” The celebrity came from humble circumstances but went on to accumulate a significant fortune. That’s where the similarity breaks down.
Paul explains: I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me.The celebrity’s extremely public life, leads one to assume that she looked other places for strength, than to Christ. Destructive things like alcohol and drugs seemed to have been where she turned at times when she was feeling fragile, weak, or vulnerable. Rather than enabling her to do great things like St. Paul, her source of strength brought about her untimely death.
The celebrity’s flamboyant life, lived out very much in the public eye caused her death to be highly newsworthy. The Christian funeral service attracted the full force of the press and excerpts were widely broadcast on television. There was a circus atmosphere to the service, which only added to the sadness. Possibly the thing that was most distressful about the entire thing, at least for Catholic Christians, was the pall that was draped over the casket. It was shiny, pink satin with pink “feather boas” hanging down the sides.
Whoever planned this celebrity funeral must have been present at, and taken notice of, the rich symbols we use during a Mass of Christian Burial. But they could not possibly have understood the meaning behind the symbols; at least not the meaning of the pall. Maybe it was intended to conceal the harsh reality of a casket with something “glitzy.” Possibly the pink satin and the feathers worked well with the over all color scheme of the funeral. Or, more likely the color and fabrics were among the celebrity’s favorite things…speaking to who she was and what she was all about. If however, this stylized pall was intended to be a “Christian symbol”, it missed the mark.
The pall is placed over the lifeless earthly body at the beginning of the Funeral Mass. When possible this is done at, or near the Baptismal Font, where the body is blessed with the Living Waters. The white pall, speaks to something that occurred in the past. It brings to mind the white garment that babies are dressed in at infant baptism, or the clothing change of adults emerging from the font at the Easter Vigil (they are encouraged to enter dressed in black and after Baptism change into white). The funeral pall speaks to the reality that in Baptism, we “put on Christ.”
At the same time, the pall directs our attention to the ultimate and endless future. It evokes the hope for all Christians who have tried to live their lives in a way befitting of someone “clothed in Christ Jesus.” When we leave time and enter into eternity, the pall…which some might consider to be a funeral garment…in a real sense, is a “wedding garment. It speaks to the truth that the “required dress” for the heavenly banquet is Christ.
It’s hard to imagine that the choreographer of the celebrity’s funeral had even the slightest comprehension of the meaning of the funeral pall, or the spiritual reality that this garment represents. Is there any time in our lives when we need more strength, then when we breathe our last breath? Our strength to step out of time and into Eternal Peace comes from Christ…definitely not the things that pink satin and feather boas represent.
Think of it this way. Even a stranger can identify the bride at a wedding reception. On that day when you stand at the entry to eternity, will you be easily recognized as “an invited guest?”
A more sobering, but critically important question for self reflection is this: Which is most fitting to me…pink satin and feathers…or the pure, white funeral pall?