Father Raymond de Souza preached the funeral homily today for Father Richard John Neuhaus. Immaculate Conception Church on East 14th Street, Manhattan, was PACKED to maximum capacity. Literally, standing room only. I estimated at least 75 or more priests and four bishops, including Archbishop O'Brien of Baltimore, concelebrated the funeral Mass with a congregation of young and old alike.
Fr. Raymond classified Fr. Neuhaus as a CONVIVIAL cleric, noting that in true William F. Buckley style, the former Lutheran theologian - now Catholic priest and scholar, was a true wordsmith. He used and properly so, such verbiage as CONVIVIUM, WINSOME and EGREGIOUS.
He was convivial because he truly found great joy and consolation in being a Priest. He enjoyed the truth, discussing, debating and defending it. He enjoyed life and the good things in life always employing those indispensible moral virtues of temperance and prudence. Whether a good meal, a good drink, a good cigar or a good conversation, Father Neuhaus enjoyed these not for epicurian or selfish reasons, but because as the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas taught so well, the human will is oriented to the Good and therefore, whatever is good we desire and should pursue, but always realizing there is a HIERARCHY of goods. Prudence guides us to exercise some restraint (temperance) in our pursuit of legitimate goods knowing that often we must curtail, constrain or even be willing to sacrifice them for HIGHER GOODS, such
as the salvation of our souls and the souls of others, as well. Jesus was not a workaholic nor was He a hedonist. Our Divine Lord enjoyed the company and good meals provided by Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Unlike His cousin Saint John the Baptist who dined on wild locusts and honey,
Jesus ate and drank with sinners, publicans, prostitutes and tax collectors. Good, clean FUN is not only morally permissable it is sometimes necessary for the person.
Father de Souza's sermon was one of the finest I have ever heard and it was the most apropos. He began where most priests and deacons woefully and adversely omit: "we pray for the merciful judgment of Almighty on God on the immortal soul of Father Neuhaus for any sins he committed in life; for speedy purification of his soul; and for divine reward for all his goodness and acts of charity while he sojourned here on earth."
WOW! Actually praying for the soul of the deceased AND admitting the possibility, nay, the probability that we are all indeed SINNERS in need of mercy and forgiveness. Then the zinger: praying for expedient purgation. All this in 2009, no less. All too often, Catholic funerals have become miniature canonizations of the deceased. While it is NOT the proper time and place to identify and elaborate the sins, weaknesses and mistaskes culpably committed by the recently departed, nevertheless, I have been to many funerals of clergy and laity alike where the tone, text and presumption are that the dead person is already in heaven enjoying the Beatific Vision.
Too many funeral homilies omit any reference to Purgatory and simply make a statement of fact that the decedant is now in Paradise. Aside from the Roman Pontiff when he infallibly declares a person to be a Saint, no one else on earth can make such proclamations. How sad that many Catholics see no need to pray for the dead nor to even have Masses offered for the departed souls of their loved ones since Father or Deacon Joe said at the funeral, "we are assured that he/she is now with the Lord in heaven." Except for the funerals of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul the Great, I personally would have reservations denying anyone else the need and the opportunity (and in fact the gift) of Purgatory to wash away all attachments to sin a person accumulated in life.
Today, preachers mention how 'nice' the deceased person was. He or she may and probably was VERY NICE. Niceness is not salvific, however. Sometimes, we even hear that the dead person did many good deeeds in life and that they could truthfully be regarded as a GOOD person. Goodness is not enough. Even moral goodness is not enough to enter the Pearly Gates. HOLINESS (sanctity) is what Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition tell us is necessary for heaven. Sanctifying Grace justifes and redeems us and Actual Grace empowers us to DO holy deeds and to LIVE holy lives. When was the last time you heard the funeral homilist say with conviction that the person was truly a HOLY and DEVOUT Christian? An exemplary and PRACTICING Catholic? Instead, we are given a litany of anecdotes establishing that the deceased was basically a NICE guy and certainly no terrorist.
Obituaries are just as bad. "Wilma enjoyed crocheting and needle-point and was an active member of her monthly garden club ... Fred was an avid fisherman, loved golf and bowling and had a great sense of humor." While these statements may in fact be 100% accurate and true, SO WHAT? Since when do our hobbies get us into heaven? What happened to praising someone for their FIDELITY to their religion and to their marriage and family commitments? What about letting the outside world know that Ethel was a daily communicant and active member of her parish? What about letting others know that despite many years of physical pain, suffering, obstacles and harsh inconveniences, this person PERSEVERED and never lost faith? Better to be encouraged by that instead of wasting print space about who was a Penn State fan in life.
Father de Souza quoted the late Father Neuhaus who often remarked that "we were born to die," meaning that the reward of living a good and holy life in conformity to the Will of God is obtained in the next life after we die. Particular Judgment occurs at the moment of death and we are as culpable for our sins of omission as we are for of our wilful acts of disobedience.
Neuhaus never missed an opportunity to speak the truth. He loved the truth and discussed it with clarity and in charity. He was a great gift and asset to the Catholic Church in America and will be dearly missed.