Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On the Passing of "Great" Men

Scripture reminds us that it is a "holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead." That, indeed, is the very purpose of a Catholic Requiem Mass. The eulogy, however, falls into an entirely different category. The Catholic Church was very wise to allow no place for such a dangerous form of speech for most of the last two thousand years. Save the stories for the Wake, which, unlike the contemporary bland "gathering" in a Funeral Parlour here in the US the night before the funeral, used to be in the family home and would involve "veritas" not from vino, but perhaps from Johnnie Walker (Black Label). We now have the contemporary eulogy, or eulogies, delivered by the new priesthood, who celebrate their liturgies via the medium of television. Truth, even in charity, or "caritas in veritate," is not a feature of the new eulogy. This night, a recently departed Senator; a "Catholic" Senator, was described on National Public Radio as a "champion of the oppressed and the needy:" however fifty million unborn Americans obviously did not fit into that Catholic Senator's list of "oppressed and needy."

In November 1997, Father George Rutler, no fawning eulogist or sycophant despite his friendship with Presidents, Princes and Potentates wrote a classic "crie de coeur" in Crisis Magazine, which is more than relevant on this day. Entitled 'Speaking Well of the Dead,' the full article can be found in the archives at, where Crisis now has its internet home. It is quite magnificent: a few choice morsels to whet your appetite in search of the piece -

"In the sanctuary where only truth is to be spoken, eulogies were discouraged in more honest days when even romanticized charlatans and avuncular Caligulas could be buried with the crepe of contrition."

This culture "mocks the imperatives of the mystery (of death) by applauding the guilty as cold-bloodedly as it destroys the innocent. Where the idol worshipped by a culture is one's public image, even candor must be sacrificed to it; and when only the self is celebrated, celebrity canonizes itself."

"In obedience to the Divine Mercy, speaking well of the dead may sometimes require not speaking good of the dead."

"In the moral order, one may not pass final judgment on another....our present problem is not the arrogance of damning souls to hell. The plague is of courtiers who subpoena charity to defend sloth and, having so dazzled the jury, proceed to judge publicly that their little lords are in heaven."

"If eulogies are not sensibly stopped, I do hope they will be more precise."

President Obama will deliver a eulogy on Saturday at the Requiem Mass for Senator Kennedy.


Charles Ryder said...

Bravo. Quite right.

Thank you kindly for pointing out this piece by the Prince of Park Avenue.

drewann said...

Great post, thank you.

GOR said...

Yes, as with other celebrities this eulogy will no doubt extol and deify the subject with florid phrases and fulsome praise - long on gloss and short on reality. It will be the antithesis of Shakespeare’s words in the mouth of Mark Anthony: “The evil that men do live after them, the good is oft interred with their bones”.

As someone sagely noted: “There is some good in the worst of us and some bad in the best of us”. And while we cannot judge which will ultimately tip the scale in eternity, fortunately it is not for us to determine. Only One has the power to see the innermost secrets of the heart and mind and make that determination. We often complain that there is “no justice in the world”, and frequently there isn’t. But there is justice in Heaven – the ultimate justice which will be meted out by the Just Judge.

But He is also the Merciful Judge and all of us - celebrities or nonentities - must commend ourselves to His mercy. That should be the only topic of any eulogy. Don’t rashly canonize the departed soul. Pray for its salvation.

De profundis clamavi at te Domine…

Kevin said...

I could not agree with you more.Eulogy they, indeed, do not have a place during a funeral Mass never mind they can be dangerous and frightening.

tibotmorfenoo said...

This post is almost as disturbing as it is confusing.

1) Is your prophetic rhetoric trying to imply that Senator Kennedy is responsible for taking the lives of 50 million unborn? I’ll try to understand this logic by applying it... So, how many lives did Senator Kennedy save by the legislation he crafted and/or voted for (but never implemented or judged – that’s up to the Executive, Judicial Branches and/or private sector) that targeted the root or underlying causes of abortion (hint, many argue that the bullseye/root ain’t man-made laws that seek to restrict abortion, One can only wonder?

2) Your use and context of “ ‘Catholic’ Senator” seems to go beyond recognizing Senator Kennedy’s faults (the faults that Senator Kennedy himself attempted to acknowledge near the end of his life) – Matthew 7:1-5 seems to address. Moreover, it seems to turn the following borrowed quote on it head: "In the moral order, one may not pass final judgment on another....OUR PRESENT PROBLEM IS NOT THE ARROGANCE OF DAMNING SOULS TO HELL. The plague is of courtiers who subpoena charity to defend sloth and, having so dazzled the jury, proceed to judge publicly that their little lords are in heaven." Hmmm….the voice of moderation is returning ( – to paraphrase you “it must be exhausting to hold back the waves.”

3) The irony of this post is that you appear as guilty of superciliousness as those you are trying to label as such?

4) "If you're not confused, you're not paying attention." - Tom Peters

Make no mistake, I recognize Senator Kennedy’s serious faults in regards to Catholic teachings – but who am I to judge, no? - Particularly when he isn't here to defend himself?

Pray for me, and I will pray for you.

the owl of the remove said...

Silly, Tibot - sometimes you argue just for the sake of it - don't you get tired? Mass indeed must be said for Kennedy's soul - the rest of the post is quite clear to me - but what do I know? By the way, in Kennedy's much hyped letter to the Pope and new book, there is NO repentance for consistently and CONSTANTLY voting against ANY and ALL restrictions on abortion - including partial birth abortion and, in fact, on every serious moral issue of the day, Kennedy opposed the teaching of the Church- but what do I know ---"when Irish eyes are smiling..." let's all sing along, we're all going to Heaven anyway...."when Irish eyes are......."

tibotmorfenoo said...

“serious moral issue”….hmmm…I am assuming there is more than one “serious moral issue” that Catholics can be concerned with and work on and still - in their own conscience - consider themselves “Catholic,” no? In fact I think USCCB's "Faithful Citizenship" even suggests multiple - apprently - "less-serious moral issues" can balance a few or single "serious moral issue(s)."

If you consistently and constantly vote against legislation that would improve the lot of the less fortunate are you voting against any and all restrictions on abortion (hint, see my #1 above) in an indirect way and in a manner that that works within the law of the land as decided/interpreted by the judicial branch of your government?

Too bad the Catholic Church didn’t have to operate in pluralistic societies where not everyone is Catholic – then we could definitively sing “when Irish eyes are smiling” and could all be assured we are all going to Heaven anyway…

The fumes from the undercroft are really getting to me tonight – can you tell, or maybe it’s the Guinness? Nite, nite.

the owl of the remove said...

The Catholic Church solemnly teaches that the issue of life trumps all other issues - ALL other issues - The Catechism reaffirms this - the Popes have reaffirmed this - the 2000 year history of the Church reaffirms this - but what does that matter - we live in a "pluralistic society" thank God you were not a Jew in Nazi Germany - you might have had some blogger arguing about pluralism. As Archbishop Chaput said - feel free to vote for an abortion-supporting politician - but be ready to answer to the souls of the 50 million who will surely ask you to justify that vote, when you meet them in the next world. I, for one, do not have that confidence.....all together..."when Irish eyes are smiling..."

JD Curtis said...

Only God truly knows who are his..... That being said, It's my personal belief that Ted is a bit warmed over and toasty these days for the exact reasons you state....