by Father Mark Goldasich
Imagine you’re the pastor of a very poor parish. A notorious Mafia mobster has just died and his brother approaches you with an offer that, hopefully, you can refuse.
“I will give you $250,000,” says the mobster’s brother, “if, during the funeral homily, you say that my brother was a saint.”
How would you handle this?
One particular pastor, although an honest man of deep faith, couldn’t let this opportunity pass. He accepted the money and the deal.
After reading the Gospel, the priest walked down the aisle and stood by the casket. He cleared his throat and said, “We all know that this man we’ve come to bury today was a terrible mobster. He robbed millions, cheated on his wife, did violence to others, drank too much, gambled and never paid his taxes.”
“However,” continued the wily priest, “compared to his brother, this guy was a saint!”
It’s the month of November, when the church directs our attention to the end times, specifically asking us to reflect on an uncomfortable topic: death. As Christians, though, this topic is not all gloomy darkness; it’s not something hopeless.
Rather, we believe that, at death, “life is changed, not ended.” That’s no doubt why we began this month with the festive celebration of All Saints’ Day and we’ll end it with the glorious feast of Christ the King.
That’s not to say that there aren’t tears when we reflect on death. But there can be both tears of sorrow from missing our loved ones and tears of joy in knowing that they’re in the loving company of Jesus and the saints.
I believe it’s in our DNA to know that this earthly life isn’t all there is. That’s why we can dare to laugh even in the face of death. As proof, take a gander at these humorous sayings on tombstones:
- “Here lies Ezekial Aikle/Age 102/The Good Die Young” (Nova Scotia)
- “Here lies an Atheist/All dressed up/And no place to go” (Maryland)
- ”The children of Israel wanted bread/And the Lord sent them manna/Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife/And the Devil sent him Anna” (England)
- “Here lies Johnny Yeast/Pardon me/For not rising” (New Mexico)
- “Sir John Strange/Here lies an honest lawyer/And that is Strange” (England)
- “Here lies the body of our Anna/Done to death by a banana/It wasn’t the fruit that laid her low/But the skin of the thing that made her go” (Vermont)
- “Harry Edsel Smith/Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down/It was” (New York)
Or how about the tombstone with a recipe on the back for “Mom’s Christmas Cookies”? The family said whenever someone asked for her recipe, their mom’s response was “over my dead body.”
Ironically, the recipe omits how long to bake the cookies! Guess Mom got the last laugh.
On a more serious note, have you ever thought what people would put on your tombstone to describe you? Check out this story about Albert Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.
Apparently, back in 1888, Albert’s brother Ludvig died while in Cannes, France. A French newspaper mistakenly thought that it was Albert who died and wrote an obituary describing him as the “merchant of death,” saying that Albert “devised a way for more people to be killed in war than ever before. He died a very rich man.”
This obit apparently caused Albert to do some deep soul searching.
Today, most people may not know of Nobel’s connection to dynamite, but they’re aware of his initiating the Nobel Prize, an award for scientists, writers and others who promote the cause of peace. A quote attributed to him says, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”
During this month, plan to visit a cemetery. Pray at the graves of your loved ones and think about what words you might chisel on their headstones, based on the lessons, virtues and memories they left behind.
Reflect, too, on what you’d want your tombstone to read. Live in such a way that yours will be more inspirational than one in Georgia that reads: “I told you I was sick!”