Refreshing are the rare occasions when we are treated to a homily at a Funeral Mass (Mass of Christian Burial) rather than a eulogy or worse yet a canonization decree. Father Paul Scalia honored his father Justice Antonin Scalia by preaching rather than eulogizing or canonizing. In so doing he also offered for priests a model funeral homily structure.
The homily hung its content on the skeleton of the declaration that Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. It thus took the listeners' meditation in three directions-to the past and Christ's passion; to the present and our prayer for the deceased; to tomorrow and our own conversion and impending judgment. The three important foci of a funeral message were included-the paschal mystery of Jesus, the life of the deceased and the mourners left behind.
Father Scalia's family is a model for us as priests in preaching funerals for three important reasons. First it was a proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He preached Christ to the world in that televised Mass. Every funeral today is an opportunity for evangelization because the majority of people attending are Catholics who do not know their faith or non Catholics who have never been introduced to it. Secondly it is a model for preachers because it maintained a balance between cheerful vignettes from the life of the deceased and a focus on the act of charity we give to the deceased by our prayers for his or her soul. Third it is an example to us because it offered a challenge to conversion for all who were listening.
It is my hope that the beautiful homily at this important event in our country's history, as we laid to rest a great legal scholar and man of deep faith, will inspire priests to return to the core of what funeral preaching ought to be-a proclamation of the gospel of Christ, a call to prayer for the deceased that God's mercy would be available to sinners who have died and a reminder that we will all face death and judgment and so must avail ourselves of every opportunity for conversion.
We do a disservice to the congregation if we fail to challenge the faithful in our preaching. We offer a great gift to the Church if we proclaim the Church's beliefs about the merciful work of praying for the dead, preach Scripture rather than trivialities and keep the focus always on the Lord.