Funeral Sermon for the New Year


A great funeral sermon (video) with some thoughts that might help you in goals for your new year:

19 comments Add comment

Paul Snatchko December 28, 2009 at 11:53 am

I appreciate the overall goal of the homilist in this clip. He’s trying to bring people back to God and God’s house. It is, of course, the best of intentions.

But, is a funeral homily the best time and place to do this? There may be people in that church suffering over a death. Is this a good time to remind them that they have failed in being regular Communicants?

And, if a homilist is deliver to give this message in a funeral homily, is the “tough love” approach the best means? I’m not convinced.

We should not go to Church and receive the Holy Eucharist mainly because we fear death. There are much, much better reasons.

We should go to Church and receive the Eucharist because it makes us one with the Creator who loves us — and with each other.

Tony December 28, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Paul, I agree that we should not go to Church out of Fear.
However, many people think they’ll live to 90 and die in their sleep. Many think they have plenty of time to turn to God. But when you look in the Obituaries you see people from 8 to 88.
I think many people need a wake up call. Nobody promises you tomorrow and God is Not going to come running after you in this Life or the Next.
We see in sacred scripture and tradition where God has taught us how he wants us to worship him and how He has revealed himself to us. In Jeff Cavin’s Matthew Bible study, Mr. Cavins teaches that if you want to find out who God is we should read the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mound.
Jesus, before his ascension, left the World a Church. More than just a building, the Church is “Christ’s only Body here on Earth”, through which we are saved.
This life is Nothing compared to Eternity. So it’s sad how little many people think of this Fact. It’s sad how little many think of the Truth about God and what he asks of us.

Paul Snatchko December 28, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Dear Tony,

Thanks for your reply. In it, you made this statement: “God is Not going to come running after you in this Life or the Next.”

I don’t agree with this. I think God is constantly running after us. He’s running after us in this life. And, as Catholics, we believe he will continue to try to make us whole in purgatory.

In fact, I’d even say that the whole meaning of Christmas is “God running after you.” God himself came to earth through his Son, Jesus Christ. And, we believe, Jesus died on the cross for us. What could be more “running after you” than that?

In this idea that we need to fear death, I see an Evangelical thinking. It’s important to remember that, as Catholics, we don’t think that the moment of our death is our last chance at salvation. We as Catholics believe that our Almighty Father can reach our souls even after our last breath. This is why we pray for the dead.

God Bless,

Tony December 28, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Paul, I agree. I was speaking of the People who reject God.
God Left us a Mountain of Evidence of his existence. Nature, the Heavens, Science, Mathmatics all point to a Divine Creator. Those who believe do have God as Our Father who will Not abandon us
In John 6, Christ did not go after those who rejected his Bread of Life Sermon. Those who look at all the Evidence and reject God choose Hell for Eternity.
I never heard of God Making us whole in Purgatory? I know, hopefully, there will be people praying for us in Purgatory. So if you can explain that It would be appreciated.

Keep up God’s Work,


Paul Snatchko December 28, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Dear Tony,

Thanks for the dialogue. Here’s a link to some background on purgatory:

(This is a site run by the Franciscans / St. Anthony Messenger Press.)

Tony, in your reply, you said this: “Those who look at all the Evidence and reject God choose Hell for Eternity.”

You really think our God is sending that many people to hell? That’s a lot of folks.

I don’t think it’s gonna be that crowded. I don’t have a catechism number at my fingertips, but my own personal hunch is that our God is a lot more merciful than that.

I have some friends who are athiests, agnostics and just plain old lazy believers. I don’t think that, if they died today, they would go to hell. Why put limitations on the ability of an all-powerful God to heal a stubborn soul who turned a blind eye to the evidence?

Also, what about the people who just aren’t properly formed to see the evidence?

God Bless,

ConcordPastor December 29, 2009 at 12:12 am

Paul, I couldn’t agree with you more. If you’ve checked the blog from which this video originated, you’ll see my lengthier comment on this – and the response from Monsignor Pope.

Mike Hayes December 29, 2009 at 1:43 am

I agree with Paul’s pastoral sensitivity here. The fact that someone died is more than enough fodder for those who have been screwing up to gain some perspective. This priest is simply “piling on” for his own purposes. The fact that he posted it on you tube only convinces me of his self-promotion.

Moments of conversion are indeed pastoral in nature and not public. We’re all in need of constant evangelization but that conversion results from a realization of God’s sacrifice for us and not of our fear. As Paul said “God is always seeking us continually.”. Surely some reject God and choose riches or cheapned sex or some other sin over God’s love. But that is the true fear–that God’s love won’t be enough, can’t possibly satisfy or will be punitive to us before we are forgiven. We all secretly think that each time we choose that “other” instead of God.

In short, you catch more flies with honey and you gain converts by your own example of living authentically holy lives and not shaming people into showing up for mass each week.

Lastly, notice how poor his message of conversion is as well. He speaks nothing about living for others, only about church membership and praying. While our contemplative do us a great service with their prayers, I doubt if the majority in attendnace are considering monastic life! Perhaps thoughts about how they can serve the needs of others because that’s what the deceased did might have been a more inspiring message of conversion.

But then, the homily wouldn’t have been about the priest in question, would it ?

I’m just sayin….

Matthew Warner December 29, 2009 at 1:58 am

Thanks for all the great thoughts and conversation all!

But actually we Catholics do believe our eternal fate is completely determined at the moment of our death (our “particular judgment”).

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1021 Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul–a destiny which can be different for some and for others.

1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation.

Purgatory is simply the “purification” process mentioned here…it is not a “second chance”.

As far as people who “aren’t properly formed” it’s reasonable to assume that God takes that into account (as he does with all of our sins) as to their culpability or degree to which they have accepted or denied Christ – but they will still be judged finally and for eternity at their particular judgment according to their works and faith…as will we all.

We don’t know how many people will go to which places. So when dealing with eternal destinations it’s best to take it more seriously rather than less. There is nothing more important in our lives.

There is a level of fear of death and hell that is healthy. Of course, as Paul mentioned, a greater and more perfect motivation should be the love of God. But I think the point of the sermon is not to promote fear, it’s to encourage people to take their eternal destiny seriously – rather than for granted as so many do. And taking it seriously means aligning every tiny bit of our life towards that final goal of holiness and salvation.

The most effective way to communicate and share that with people and the place and time at which we do it is certainly a legitimate and important debate.

God bless you all!

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn December 29, 2009 at 5:02 am

Interesting post and comment thread here. I had seen that video recently and reacted in a way that was similar to Paul’s.

As someone involved in funeral ministry, I do have to restate what has already been said and that is – is a funeral the best place for this homily? My one real argument against this kind of preaching is that I find it troubling to evangelize through fear.

In the past few years I have seen more people changed and called back into the arms of God in community by funerals liturgies that transformed through love, mercy and compassion.

And none of us know what is transformed in that moment when we die – it is not too late to open our hearts to the God who loved us into being and who pursues us with great ardency always.

Thanks for the thought provoking post and thread. God bless all.

Matthew Warner December 29, 2009 at 11:07 am

I can understand some of your reactions. But I have some reservations with some of these sentiments. I think your intentions are all good and I think that’s why we can have this great conversation and do it with love. So thank you for that.

Just a few thoughts:

1) I think some of us may be of a different generation and I’m aware that may be the difference here in terms of our Catholic experience. But I feel (from my personal experience and from those of a majority of my friends) that it is because I didn’t hear enough honest sermons like this that so many of us drifted away from our faith. That’s fact. The generation before us perhaps over-reacted to the harshness and legalism of their experience growing up and because of that over-reaction, the harsh realities of our faith were ignored and we all suffered.

2) I didn’t find this an overall message of fear at all. I found it a message of fatherly encouragement. We need more of that from our priests. We need some honesty and some teaching from the pulpit. The masses are very poorly catechized. And that hinders us from growing closer to God.

3) I’m shocked to see somebody accuse this priest so confidently of “self-promotion.” That doesn’t seem very “pastoral” in itself. I also think that’s totally inaccurate from what I see and hear of it. But I don’t know the priest personally, maybe some of you do.

4) The fact is that I, personally, was moved and motivated by this sermon to become closer to God and love him more. I also know countless others who had the same experience. So it is very strange to hear people say this kind of sermon isn’t effective. That is plainly not the case. Granted, I wasn’t attending the funeral at the time. So I can’t speak for those people. But I can speak for myself and many others who did experience conversion as a result of this sermon being shared on youtube and on the internet. And I certainly understand this priest’s desire to reach people with an important message at one of the only times (weddings and funerals) many of them will be exposed to this reality.

5) It is inaccurate to say that conversion doesn’t occur through fear. It happens all the time. Of course, love is a more perfect conversion, but to say fear doesn’t work is simply wrong.

6) It also shouldn’t be troubling to “evangelize through fear.” Jesus said a lot of very scary things. He also often said them very harshly.

7) Of course, we shouldn’t use fear solely for fear’s sake. But some things in life are scary. That’s just reality. And it is often the loving thing to do to make sure that people know that reality. And in knowing reality, they may experience some fear. That’s human. Overall, knowing the reality and seriousness of your eternal soul is a good, loving thing to educate somebody of. It is negligent and harmful to pretend otherwise.

Take the example of raising a child. There are some things in life we (at some appropriate age) as responsible parents we must teach our children about the world that are scary. We have to teach them if they run into a busy road they could be hurt badly or even killed. That’s not spreading fear for fear’s sake. That’s teaching them about reality. It’s the loving thing to do. We can say we love them all day long and they will love us right back right out into the middle of the intersection – unless of course we teach them about a scary reality that cars can kill you. How much more important is our eternal soul? (answer: infinitely)

8 ) The danger is in the extremes here – not for extremes’ sake but because the extremes aren’t true. Yes, Jesus’ message is a message of pure love. But it’s also a message of pure love that never ignores a sometimes scary and harsh reality. Jesus never hesitated to preach hell. He did it in a loving way, but he told people about it. And he didn’t soften the language either when he did. We must do the same. Preaching a harsh reality without love may not be as effective, but at least it’s honest. Preaching love without a true reality is neither.

We must do both. Our current culture needs to know the truth and they need to be loved. Both are scarce. Benedict XVI addresses this timely issue in Caritas in Veritate.

I would just suggest to many of you not to avoid talking about the harsh realities of our faith – but do it in love of course. Indeed, it is often the loving thing to do. And it’s serious stuff. People like me need a lot of reminders. :-)

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn December 30, 2009 at 4:49 am

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I don’t want to belabor things but I would like to say a few more things. I am always grateful for exchange and conversation in a (blog)world filled with acrimony and accusation, so that is why this discussion and many others are so important.

As to evangelizing through fear – your points 6 and 7… I think you clearly captured the thought of fear for fear’s sake alone. However, I will continue to say that I do not think that fear is a valid tool for conversion. OK, maybe some will become closer to God out of fear and love will transcend that fear; however, I do not find the fear itself useful. That is just me.

A few other points – I don’t recall seeing anyone mentioning age and/or generation, but you do in point #1. As a Catholic of a certain age, I am as uncomfortable with your words about my generation as I am when people of my own try to box in your age group. It brings context but is not essentially all that helpful IMHO. That said, I do not for one minute think you meant any disrespect.

To blame poor catechizing and sermons for drift is an over-simplification in my opinion. Do you really believe – and God bless you if you do – that this is where the problem was/is?

That may be fodder for a blogpost of its own. I guess I better add you to my reader Matthew and I do say that with love.

(FWIW – I am 52 years old. I was raised in the RC church and left at age 14. I essentially missed all post conciliar reforms and in fact was disdainful of them at the time. I was a hurt and mixed up kid. When I returned to church at age 32, and reluctantly at that, I had a lot of catching up to do. And adjusting. So I am not sure if I fit the cookie-cutter mold of a Catholic of my age – even if I now embrace much of what that means in general.)

Pax- Fran

Matthew Warner December 30, 2009 at 10:52 am

Fran – thanks for your great response!

My quick replies to keep this short: :-)

First, my overall point is that the truth is scary sometimes. Jesus preached the Truth even though it surely scared some people. But he did it with love. You can say that Jesus was “using fear to evangelize” perhaps. I just call it being honest. And people want the truth.

Second, I certainly wasn’t trying to “box anyone in” by age. I was simply conceding that different Catholic experiences (that in this case I find highly correlated by generation) often lead to different opinions on this subject.

Third, I didn’t over-simplify the cause for drift at all. I just suggested that a lack of “fatherly encouragement” and honesty and teaching from the pulpit has contributed to drift (in my case personally and for many people I know).

I am always thankful for new readers – especially thoughtful ones that contribute to the conversation and learning. Thanks, Fran!

Tony December 30, 2009 at 5:38 pm

First, It’s nice to be part of a Blog Discussion that is respectful.
Matthew, I believe you are right on the money, especially when you say that many leave the Church through poor Catechizing. The Wife and I are examples of that. If I would have known when I was 18 or 19 what I know about the Church now at 44 I never would have left.
There are many Catholics my age and under that do not know that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. Many have fallen away from the Church or fallen into the Protestent mind set that the Church is just a Building and “ALL” you need is to “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior” and be a good person. #1. Not Scriptural. #2. Judas had a personal relationship with Jesus.
Also, I want to add that yes! We do Not Know the Depths of God’s Mercy and Forgiveness. Saint Faustina, afterall, described Our Lord’s yearning to Forgive Us as “AN Ocean of Mercy”.
For those who, at this point in there lives, reject God, I agree that the best way to Evangelize is through Love. However, (IMO)when I read what Christ says in Scared Scripture about judgement, Hell, Damnation, and the Urgency of repenting, I would warn against ( I apologize for lack of a better term) over sentimentality, especially when we talk to non-believers who are living with Mortal sin. We are told told be ready, as for a Thief coming in the night. We never know when we are going to die.
Scripture tells us that Nothing UnHoly enters Heaven. That tells me most go to Purgatory, as Matthew says, for Purgation and Not a Second chance.
For God to be Good, it requires Him to act in perfect Justice.
I know God is the Ultimate Judge and we are told that we will see some in Heaven that we do Not expect to see there and some in Hell that we do not expect to see there. From what I have read in Scared Scripture, Bible Study, studying Apologetic Material, talking to Priests and Deacons, etc.; “God does not send people to Hell, people choose Hell by rejecting God”. I’m sorry if this offends some. But again, read in Sacred Scripture what Jesus says about Judgement, Hell, Damnation, and the urgency of repenting.
Paul, no disrespect, but I have problems with and St. Anthony Messenger. I used to have a subscription to St. Anthony Messenger and found many Errors and New Age Teaching slipping through the cracks. For example, They have intermittent articles written by Fr. Richard Rohr, who use to be a Great Priest and Wrote Awesome Books, but who has now embraced New Age Religion. Just go to youtube and type in Fr. Rohrs name if you don’t believe me.
I would Love to have this Sermon ar My funeral. Many of my Family members only go to Church for Christmas-Easter-Weddings-Funerals and probably go days and weeks without thinking about God, at least until they want something. In This world we can have periods of Happiness and fun. But I would LOVE for them (As I know you want for your Family) to find the JOY in Knowing Jesus Christ and Worshipping Him the way he has Commanded us to Worship him. I want them all to one day, even if through a long purgation period, to Enter the Gates of Heaven.
For those who would not want a sermon like this, or think it’s Not the way to evangelize, I understand your Feelings. God uses many ways to Draw us to him. Maybe God used this Priest and this Sermon because he knew there would be people there who needed to hear this?

Carol December 31, 2009 at 1:00 am

Amen, Fr. Pope.

It is such a fantastic breath of fresh air to hear the truth spoken so eloquently (finally!) at a funeral.

This is what I want at my funeral mass and I expect “Henry” was of the same inclination. All the previous comments/commentators seem to have overlooked that this was no fresh-faced mere priest. This homily was delivered by a well known, very well respected Monsignor who was ordained 30 years ago.

I’ve been a cantor for 30 year and am now a music director. How I have yearned to hear these words spoken to the sad sacks that only come to the funerals and weddings. I know for a fact the “comforting” touchy-feely stuff at funerals hasn’t brought one person back to God in our little community and I doubt its effectiveness in general. Regardless, even if I’m wrong (which happens more than I care to admit) there’s plenty of that feel good “God’s okay with it if you’re happy” kind of watered down non-religious stuff floating around out there to completely drown Fr. Pope’s message. Still; if he only touches one soul, one person with this truth that seems Holy Spirit inspired to me, then he did a great job and may he keep on his path.

(just my 2 cents)

Carol December 31, 2009 at 1:03 am

oops. Ordained in ’89 = 20 years, not 30.

Mr. Ambrose Little, O.P. December 31, 2009 at 11:28 am

Personally, I appreciate the intentions in cases like these. I am inclined to think that *in general* our pastors could be just a tad more straightforward (not harsh) about the more difficult (culturally speaking) aspects of our faith. I tend to think that folks like me (and I suspect Matthew and his friends, from what he says) would be more inclined than most to appreciate a sermon like this in this context.

However, I also think that pastoral sensitivity should be the rule, especially at funerals. I tend to think that people who are grieving, in pain, over the loss of a loved one would not *in general* respond well to the use of that occasion as a means to intimidate people to return to the practice of the faith. It’s not just the occasion of a funeral but the occasion of a funeral in our cultural context that leads me to say this. The Church is all too often still popularly presented in a negative, guilt, fear, and even hate mongering light. While there are truths of the faith that should instill real fear of God in people, which is the beginning of wisdom, there is much to be said for how and when such truths should be presented. We still need to work to correct the negative image, being perhaps overly gentle in how we communicate the truths of the faith, especially the hard ones.

All that said, we can’t leave out the fact that we weren’t there. We weren’t personally affected by this loss. We aren’t the pastor here and lack a lot of context. And most of all, we don’t know if the Holy Spirit wasn’t leading him to deliver this message to those people.

Thinking of Saint Stephan, for instance, he could have tempered what he said (and still confess the Truth), and not said what he said that incensed those who were trying him to stone him (it was pretty inflammatory under the circumstances). Maybe under most circumstances being prudentially gentle is the better path, but clearly the Spirit moved him to say what he did, even though it resulted in his own brutal death.

It’s hard to judge particulars, especially at a distance, but in general, I think it is more pastorally prudent (FWIW!) to keep funerals focused on comforting those who mourn and praying for the soul of the departed. The event of a loved one’s death is in itself enough to remind us of our own mortality and need for ongoing conversion without it being explicitly said.

Matthew Warner January 2, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Mr. Ambrose Little – great thoughts. I especially agree with the point about none of us being there. There are two main contexts of this sermon:

The first is the funeral it happened at (if it actually did happen at a real funeral…I assume it did). And that one (presumably) none of us can judge the particulars of the occurrence because we weren’t there and especially don’t know the hearts of those attending or the priest.

The second is the youtube sermon posted here for us to hear. This was the primary purpose for posting it. And I found it helpful and edifying on many fronts for me personally.

But I think you hit on one of the pivotal issues, Ambrose, that may be a dividing point on those that see this kind of funeral sermon as appropriate or not. And that is the perception of the Church in our current culture.

You said:

“The Church is all too often still popularly presented in a negative, guilt, fear, and even hate mongering light. […]

We still need to work to correct the negative image, being perhaps overly gentle in how we communicate the truths of the faith, especially the hard ones.”

I agree with your overall sentiment and I think with what you’re trying to say. But the problem with this suggestion to be “overly gentle” is that the Church has already been doing that for 30+ years on many fronts in the USA. And in many ways things have gotten worse – not better – because of it. Whereas I think many who grew up in an older generation prior to this period of over-gentleness are still focused on the problems from their young adulthood back in the day…those of us who grew up during this period of overly gentleness see it as the problem itself.

When people like me hear people accuse the Church of “hate-mongering” or “guilting” people into stuff…we have to watch some old hollywood movie to understand what they are talking about. I certainly experienced nothing of the sort…in fact, I grew up (as did many of my peers) in a parish where the other extreme persisted – and still persist today.

Of course there is nothing wrong with being gentle, I agree it’s a good general rule. The problem is when the “being gentle” is a priority over the teaching of the Truth in love (which I think you would agree with, Ambrose). Being gentle is not always the same as being loving. Sometimes doing the loving thing may upset people or make them uncomfortable initially. Jesus’ ministry is filled with such examples.

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn January 2, 2010 at 8:43 pm

This is – without a doubt – one of the most respectful and interactive blog discussion threads that I have ever been on. So often it just all goes into a fight and where can we go from there. Thank you for the space to do this!

CARLOS January 6, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Visiting this blog for months….I think this is the most respectful and Insightful place for people to gather(Blogwise) on Catholic points and to listen to others and their views. Matthew Warner is very good moderator/host/blogger. Thank you Matthew for your time and effort it is greatly appreciated.

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