Reflections From The Road — Cremation and Funerals

Greetings to you all,

I am on my way to a meeting at the Archdiocese of Denver and am reflecting on cremation and funerals within the Church. The Vatican’s latest instruction on cremation and the scattering of ashes has me reflecting on burial trends and cremation, including it’s rapid growth rate and my own personal experiences. A few years ago, I was struck by a conversation that I had with Cardinal-elect Cupich when he was the Bishop of Spokane. We were talking about the challenges the Diocese was facing as cremation was over 75% in the State of Washington and funerals were declining as a result. We spoke for some time about the beauty of our Catholic funeral rites and their importance not only to the deceased, but to those left behind. Bishop Cupich asked me to give thought to how our military treats the loss of our serviceman, whether in combat or due to unfortunate circumstances. We talked for a long time about how our society will go to the ends of the earth to collect the remains of a service man, a POW, those who lose their lives in natural disasters, or even to acts of terror. In all these situations we are very determined, sparing no expense or time, to have an appropriate funeral and bury the dead in a cemetery. What is it that we are doing when we choose cremation? Is it our desire to fast forward through the grieving process? Is it an inability to comprehend the transition from this life to the next?

Pope Francis is calling us to be witnesses of the faith; to welcome, to embrace, to educate, and to pray for all those that we come in contact with in our society. This past year marks the 10th anniversary of the first opening of a Catholic funeral home and crematory in the Diocese of Oakland. As I look back, I see just how important this new endeavor was for our Church. It has helped us to learn about the stories of families and the real struggles they face today. We are so much more sensitive to their struggles, to those that have been overlooked, forgotten, or just need the warm embrace of our Catholic Church when their faith is tested. Our society needs this warm embrace more than ever. We still have a lot of work to do to partner with health care providers, hospice organizations, and disaster relief organizations.

What we have learned in the subsequent years around the country is that we are a vital part of the community, not only to Catholics, but to the entire community. Just as our government honors the lives of all our military and first responders, the Pope reminds us that we have the same duty to all in our society.