Funeral Masses ought to be times to mourn the passing of a family member or friend, as well as times to celebrate who they were and what they contributed to the community.
This is not always the case. Many Catholics have maddening stories to tell about pastors who are rigid with the rules, and funerals that were stale, "boiler plate," without anything that fit the life of the deceased.
But I was lucky recently, lucky to have found a priest who was open, compassionate and flexible.
My only brother, Michael Fiedler, died suddenly and unexpectedly last week. I flew immediately to our hometown in upstate New York to mourn his passing and make final arrangements.
Frankly, I dreaded meeting with the local priest. I did not know what I would find. But I was pleasantly surprised. When he realized that I had planned many liturgies in my life, he handed all the preparations to me. I told him I wanted to introduce the liturgy and to preach – no problem. Knowing there would be people at the funeral who were not Catholic, I told him I would invite everyone to receive communion. Again: no problem.
And then I held my breath ... what would he think of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" as a closing "hymn"? You see, my brother was a huge baseball fan, a championship bowler and an avid golfer. He surely envisioned heaven as some place between a grand slam home run, a hole-in-one on the golf course, or a perfect 300 game in bowling. I told the pastor that I would explain the context for the closing in my homily. Again, he had no problem, and everyone at the funeral that day loved it.
And Mike? I like to imagine him in the “box seats” of heaven eager to watch the new baseball season begin.