Our parish is unusual in that we do not have many funerals. Given the average age of our parishioners, funerals are things that we just do not do too often. In fact last year we had just 8 or 9 funerals total. So it was a bit unusual this week when we actually had a couple of funerals to tend to. However those funerals allowed me to recall just how beautiful those moments are to parish life. Though often filled with great sadness and sorrow, funerals are often poignant signs of the most central elements of our faith: our respect for human life, our commitment to the love and service of another, and most importantly our faith in the resurrection of the dead. There is perhaps no more hope filled sign than the sight of the single flame of the Paschal Candle at the head of a casket or cremation urn, telling us that even in the midst of death, the Light of Christ conquers all. Funerals are important to the life of a parish because they encapsulate the entire mission of a parish. In praying for the deceased, in comforting the mourning, in offering the Mass a parish community comes together at a funeral to express itself most fundamentally.
In many ways funerals are challenging for a parish staff. They are unplanned events that require the immediate attention of several staff members, forcing them to interrupt their current projects and to focus their attention on the funeral. Yet at the same time, funerals are a special time for a parish staff because they help us focus on our main goal. No matter what project, program, or task we are working on, a funeral reminds us of our primary purpose, to aid others on their journey towards heaven. To see a community gathered together in faith at a funeral is to see the culmination of the work of parish ministry. All our efforts in evangelization and catechesis, our duty to administer the Sacraments, especially to baptize, offer the Mass, hear confessions and anoint the sick are done so that when we come to the end of our life, we can trust in His mercy and hope in His resurrection. More than just the faith of the deceased, a funeral also allows to grieving community a chance to express its own faith. It is in the work of parish ministry that allows a community to gather in the midst of grief, motivated and encouraged by their trust in the power of Christ’s love and resurrection.
There are certainly moments in parish ministry when we can grow frustrated. We can be disappointed by the number of people in the pews at Mass how many people turn up for a parish event or program. These frustrations can often cause us to feel as if the effects of our work and ministry can only go so far, yet a funeral serves as a profound reminder as to why it is we work so hard at our ministry. The fruits of ministry aren’t necessarily measured by the number of participants at an event or how many memorable homilies one has given. At the end of the day the work of priestly ministry is seen in the ability of a person to face death in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. That is the message that makes ministry worthwhile. That is a message that constantly impels us to do God’s work each and every day.
Fr. Brian Ching, C.S.C., is associate pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in South Bend, Ind. He is originally from Flushing, N.Y., and is a graduate of Holy Cross High School. He entered seminary while a student at the University of Notre Dame. He professed Final Vows in 2012 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2013.