Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 1:3.21a-8; Mark 12:1-12)

In a reflection on funerals the Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calls the human body “’the primordial sacrament’ that makes the life and love of God present in the world.” For this reason Christians have traditionally reverenced the dead body in funerals. Moreover, our belief in the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns impels us to bury the body decorously. These traditions stem from Jewish customs regarding the dead of which we have a glimpse in the reading from Tobit today.

Although there is an air of pretension about him, Tobit should be seen as an upright, God-fearing man. In burying the dead man, he saves the memory of the person from the curse of having his carcass become prey to animals. The fact that his neighbors mock him for doing good indicates moral cynicism that infects an oppressed people. To be sure, Tobit’s piety should be admired, not disdained.

We live in a culture which seems to deny death. Cremation quickly removes the body that handily reminds survivors of the loss of life. Funerals “celebrating life” feature stories more appropriate at a birthday party than a burial. Most telling, a presumption reigns at funerals that no matter how they lived, the dead revel in eternal life. Of course, we hope that everyone will partake in God’s heavenly banquet. However, acknowledging the possibility of damnation, the Christian tradition is to pray for the dead’s salvation, not to assume it.