Today I had the honor of being present and praying at the final funeral of 2011 served by the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Society. The service, held in the furthermost corner of Calvary Cemetery, consisted of nothing more than graveside prayers and lasted no more than five minutes. In addition to a priest and the funeral home director, we seven representatives of St. Ignatius High School were the only people present at Joseph Linden’s funeral.
When I received the call for this funeral on Wednesday morning, truth be told, I had the temptation to put it off. The Arimathea ministry has been called to a few “funerals” in the past which consisted of nothing more than arriving at the cemetery, lifting the casket 50 feet from a hearse to a grave, and calling things a wrap. I wasn’t assured that things would be much different today when the caller arranging this funeral didn’t even know if there would be a service at the graveside this morning. How frustrating would it have been for the six boys to get up “early” on a day of Christmas vacation, drive 20-30 minutes to school, just to move a casket a few feet and then go home. Thankfully, in the end and after a bit of prayer & consultation, I decided this call was worth taking. If there were no priest or even a funeral home director present to lead a prayer service, I would lead one by myself.
Over the next two days, the thought of being present at this man’s burial stayed with me, right up until the trip this morning. I came to realize, slowly but surely, the great importance of our presence at Calvary Cemetery for Joseph’s interment. What seemed at first a bit like “cheap labor” was transformed into a deep understanding that we, the St. Ignatius community, truly are Joseph’s family. He may not have had any biological family left here on earth to care for him in his last moments, but he did have the six young men, some current students, some young alumni, to pray for him and his full entry into our true family in heaven, the communion of saints. I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind that, if we weren’t there to carry Joseph’s pall and pray for his soul, there may have well been no one outside that priest and that funeral home director to pray for Joseph and his entrance into the fullness of life with our Lord – a matter of no small importance! Prayerfully imagining meeting Joseph at the pearly gates, seeing his thankful face and knowing his gratitude for our prayers provided further consolation for serving his funeral, however short.
In this way, that final funeral of the 2011 calendar year consisted only of the boys (some of them alumni on Christmas break), the priest and the director was so symbolic of the importance and ultimate mission of the Arimathea ministry. I pray that all those involved in fine ministry, from the adult coordinators and drivers to the student leaders and pallbearers, may be grateful that they are so blessed and honored to be part of this sacred service.