It might surprise you, but I’ve found that most priests would rather do a funeral than a wedding. In a funeral, you know the soul is safely with God, but in a wedding, you don’t know where he or she might end up. What to do? Well, as St. Paul says in our Epistle today, “a dead person has been absolved of sin,” so I think it’s best for us mortals to consider ourselves already dead. “You must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus,” St. Paul continues.
I once heard a Vietnam veteran describing what it’s like to be in fire fight—deafening blasts surround you, machine gun rounds whistle past, searing flashes blind the eyes. “The sheer volume of noise paralyzes you with fear,” he said. “The only way to overcome your terror is to enter the field a dead man. In your mind you must know that you have nothing to lose, and only in this way can you advance.” “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,” St. Paul writes, “that we might live.” Normally we think of baptism as new life, but here Paul describes it as death leading to life. It was much clearer in the early Church, where baptisms were done by total immersion—drowning, as the Greek word baptizein means “immersion”—and when baptism meant death if discovered by the empire. We must not forget, even when the Church is in relative peace, that to live in Christ we must first die. Do parents realize that their children’s baptism is largely dependent on their own dying to sin? Half the baptisms I did in the parish were for children of parents living in sin, and I had to tell them that their children will greatly suffer for the sins of their fathers. Baptism, and the daily conversion to Christ it requires, is death before it can be life.
The Eucharist, our death and our life
In the Gospel Jesus multiplies bread for 4000 men. Without food many would have collapsed. Bread is life, the “staff of life.” Jesus says in John 6 that unless we eat the bread that he will give, we "will not have life within us.” But the Blessed Sacrament, along with baptism, is a death before it is life. Unless we die with Christ at every Sunday Mass, we will not rise with him. At every Mass, Christ sacrifices himself in an unbloody manner, making present his redemptive death on Calvary. Every Mass, in a sacramental sense, is a funeral for the Son of God, and every funeral Mass is a resurrection for the believing soul. Christian funerals have happy endings, but first we must die: we must crucify our wills, we must mortify our desires, we must enter into the field of this world’s combat as dead men walking. Dead to sin, and alive in Christ Jesus.
So we must not be afraid to die. God will keep us safe; he will feed us with the bread of life. We must hope in Him, without whom there is no hope. The prize of heaven awaits the soldier who cares not for his life on the battle field.
There are some weddings that I enjoy more than funerals. Sometimes bride and groom have made an honest effort to die to themselves before the wedding day. You can see it in how they comport themselves during their wedding: their marriage is not some sort of show, and it is not all about them. They know the authentic joy of having already died to this old world so as to live for God in Christ Jesus. These are the kinds of weddings you see at Thomas Aquinas College, and in any Christian community worthy of the name. Our marriages, and our lives, are not ours. They have been bought and paid for. Let’s make a resolution to die today, to die for Christ, so that we might have the courage to live.
As always, we look to Our Lady, who commended her life to God’s will when she said to the angel Gabriel, “Be it done unto me according to Thy will.” In saying that she anticipated her Son’s last words from the cross, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” Christ and his Holy Mother reign in heaven as King and Queen Mother because they surrendered their lives to God. Let us pray to Holy Mary, and surrender ourselves to the will of her Son, and so come to the fullness of life in our heavenly homeland.