Photo courtesy Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Services

Glen Argan: Humanity shows when we’re poor in spirit

  • August 27, 2020

When I was in Grade 8 at St. Augustine School in Regina, one of the priests at the neighbouring Little Flower Church frequently asked me to be the altar server at funerals. After a few of these ventures, my teacher told me to stop taking time away from school to serve at these Masses. I considered his command and decided that since this was a Catholic school, being the server at these funerals was the right thing to do. So, I engaged in my first acts of civil disobedience.

Being present at funerals gave me a graced view of people’s grief at the loss of a loved one. These were, of course, not happy events; all of them were full of sadness. Moreover, those were still the days when the funeral liturgy emphasized not the resurrection but the bleakness of death. Still further, the Church remained forthright in preaching about the possibility of an eternity in hell for wayward souls. All of this coloured these Masses.

Little Flower Church is large, and often many people attended these funerals. But the one I remember most had a tiny congregation of about 10, some of whom wailed unconsolably throughout the Mass. To recall it still gives me something of a shudder.

I did not know the deceased or those present in the congregation. I have no idea whether the man who had died was estranged from his family, from the Church or from God. No idea whether he was a bad man or whether he was so holy that his family could not bear his departure. It didn’t matter. This was not a place to judge. His passing brought great sorrow.

This memory came back to me recently after a meditation on Jesus weeping at the death of Lazarus. I had previously imagined Jesus having a brief but good cry upon arriving at Lazarus’ tomb. However, in my Bible’s notes I read that the phrase translated in the Bible as “Jesus wept” would be better translated as “Jesus wailed.”

Now I can see Jesus in that congregation in Regina wailing over the man whose funeral evoked so much grief. Jesus was a friend of Lazarus, but He is also a friend to all of us. Maybe the deaths or waywardness of some people lead Him to wail more than for others. I don’t know. But He surely wails for everyone.

Jesus’ weeping over Lazarus is a sign of His humanity. In fact, He is more fully human than we who weep less. To be overwrought with grief is not a deficiency, but one of the clearest signs of being a person. Too often, we equate human greatness with achievements — scientific discovery, artistic creativity, athletic excellence or charitable deeds. These are all good things and we do well to pursue them.

But Jesus’ mourning the death of Lazarus should be a reminder that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). Weakness and foolishness are to be treasured. Don’t be afraid to be foolish in your expression of love, in your anguish in expressing how much another person means to you.

During the pandemic, the size of congregations at funerals is being strictly limited as are the rights of family and friends to visit their loved ones in nursing homes. The spread of COVID-19 must be curtailed and such restrictions are one way to do so. Still, the restrictions erode our humanity.

Last week, we had an exterminator come to our house to rid us of some wasps which had become a stinging nuisance. He was an immigrant, and I asked about his homeland. He came to Canada because his country’s economy was in ruins. But he missed his homeland and the easy camaraderie of people who gathered outdoors to socialize and celebrate. “In Canada,” he said, “everyone lives in their own bubble.”

I wish we could burst those bubbles before we suffocate in them. Burst them with our foolish, extravagant love of others, and burst them with weeping and wailing when we experience loss. We were not born to be greater than others or to hold everything close to the vest. Our humanity is most on display when we are poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn.

(Argan writes from Edmonton.)

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