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Father Muench Says...

Remember that you are dust...

Feb. 17, 2016

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

“Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

Lent is a time to remind ourselves of many things – one of them is that we are mortal. The ashes that are placed on our foreheads are a reminder that one day we shall be dust ourselves.  Now, I know well that no one enjoys being reminded that we are mortal, that one day we will meet the Lord face to face. Personally, I usually get uncomfortable when writing about my own death, yet, I know that it is important for me to take some time to face this reality for my life.  It is much better to pray over this than to sit around worrying about it. 

When I was a young priest, people would tell me that I could speak rather boldly about death.  Now, I am older and I usually avoid the subject all together.  I am not so bold.  Yet, I know so well that this is an important challenge for me to face.

I have been a priest of the Catholic Church for 56 years, a rather long time, a life time.  In that time, I have celebrated many funeral Masses for family and friends, for parishioners and even for complete strangers.  The Catholic funeral service is so very impressive and truly comforting.  Each part of our funeral service – the prayers at the wake, the funeral Mass, the prayers at the burial – draws families closer to the Lord.  These prayers are truly a celebration of a person’s life.  They help each family to face the challenge of a loved one’s death.  This service, every funeral service, is filled with hope and trust in our merciful and loving God.  Each time I proclaim these prayers at someone’s funeral, I personally find hope and peace.

Each funeral is a time for me to consider my own death and pray for that gift of hope for myself in the Merciful Lord.  This also happens each time I visit someone who is dying in order to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick.  As a priest, I am asked to visit many who are near death, to give them the anointing.  This sacrament brings peace to so many and to me, also, to face the time of death.

By the way, I am so pleased that the Second Vatican Council encouraged us, priests, to offer this Sacrament of the Sick to all the sick, to those in the hospital, to those preparing for surgery, to those who are simply troubled or addicted.  This sacrament can bring God’s grace and help to so many, bringing hope and blessing to them. 
This sacrament brings God’s love and power to those in need.  So, remember, whenever you are in such need because of sickness or other such problems ask your pastor to come and celebrate the Anointing of the Sick with you.  Each time I celebrate this anointing of the sick with a community, with a group, I receive the sacrament myself. I know I need and will need the Lord’s presence and help to be trusting and unafraid when my time comes.

The preparation of a funeral service with a family is a special time for me.  The Church’s ritual is so wonderful and powerful and comforting.  I want each family to realize how important this time is for them.  Often, I think of each preparation is a preparing for my own funeral.  Each time, at the funeral Mass and I walk down the aisle to meet a person’s casket I know only too well that one day a priest will be walking down that aisle to meet me.
I am often asked, “Doesn’t all this make you afraid?”  I must admit that I do experience some fear. And, yet, I often hear at a funeral Mass, the hymn, “Be Not Afraid.”  There is God’s message to me, as well as to this particular family.  So, I plan to trust and depend on the Lord to stand with me and to support me – so that I truly will not be afraid.

Finally, I remember that Jesus suggests that each conversion in life, each time I accept the challenge to change my life, each time I find repentance and conversion, each time I resolve to make myself a better person, there must be a death.

Each time, when I turn to the Lord to repent my failings and to find the strength and power to become better, I must die to my old self, to my sinful self, so that I may become new in the Lord.  This new life is a real Resurrection to a new life united with the Resurrection of the Lord, my God.  The Lord makes it clear that these deaths to sin may be difficult, may require more pain, than my final death to life.

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