08 April 2008

Having coffee

The funeral for my husband's grandmother is Friday. Well, it isn't really a funeral, but a graveside service.

I've been Catholic all my life. I hold the Catholic beliefs on death and dying, the communion of saints and Purgatory. Although I've been part of hubby's Protestant family for over 20 years, there are still some times I am a fish out of water and where my Catholic perspective is so different that I fumble for words and am visibly uncomfortable. This funeral is a case and point.

My family, on both my mother's side and my father's, are Catholic. Or at least they were when I was a child. Someone was always dying. Someone was always getting married and someone was always having a baby. These were life events that happened with frequency and regularity. It is all one big continuum from the Church Triumphant down to the Church Militant.

But, my husband's family isn't Catholic. The family is very small and this is only the third funeral of theirs I've been to. Yesterday, with the passing of my husband's grandmother, I was at a loss to comfort anyone because their beliefs are so different. In talking with my husband's aunt, she was mentioning how Grandma was now in Heaven having coffee with the brother she didn't know she had and her son who died when he was an infant. While all these ideas were very consoling to her, I didn't know what to say. I couldn't say that I was praying for Grandma because in their minds she is already in Heaven. I certainly couldn't expound on the coffee thoughts and make light of the situation, but it also wasn't a time to bring up Purgatory. I did the best I could and talked about my memories of Grandma, but the awareness that I had to watch what I said made me sad. Despite what they think, there is a big difference in our faiths.

Since my husband is a convert, I've asked him many times about the Protestant belief that everyone who believes in God or claims Jesus is their Savior or is born again, goes to Heaven. It is a waste of time to mention to hubby's family that this is an unbiblical belief since they don't read the bible and they don't go to church. Everything to them is personal belief, emotional belief. Since they have no foundation, it is impossible to discuss religion. Martin Luther's reformation has been distilled down to everyone having their own beliefs. God isn't an unchanging absolute, but whatever they envision Him to be, even if family members maintain conflicting and diametrically opposed ideas. You're OK, I'm OK.

While I'm a big believer in God's mercy, we will always receive God's justice. I don't believe you can live your life without giving God a second thought, disregard His commandments and then think you're going to high-tail it into Heaven without Him batting an eye. What happened to Paul telling us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling?

To me, the comforting thought isn't that Grandma is sitting around drinking coffee, but that God gave her a long life, possibly to provide her time to turn her heart back to Him. It is my hope in His mercy that somewhere in the clouds of Alzheimer's she had a conversion and is now in Purgatory full of hope in the knowledge that she will one day see God face to face. And, if He likes coffee, that would be a bonus.


Lisa said...

Swiss: I will continue to pray for your husband's grandmother's soul. You have brought up an interesting topic and I have much the same going on with my own immediate family members-most have abandoned their Catholicism and do not attend any church at all. I cannot have any religious conversations whatsoever. I invited my parents to go to Mass with me last Sunday while I was in IL., but both said no. I honestly don't know what happened the last few years. Someday, I am going to sit down with them and ask some questions. In the meantime, I pray everyday for their conversion back to the Church.

swissmiss said...

The sad, and yet hopeful thing, is that Grandma had been Catholic but left the Church (as I mentioned on my prior post) because of a bad incident. Grandma became Lutheran, but I believe in her heart she was always Catholic as she still attended her church every week and had very Catholic beliefs. I think, in her mind, she left the institution of the Church that caused her pain, but never turned her back on Jesus.

My husband's family supports all sorts of immoral things and they just think it's fine and good and when they die they will be in Heaven.

ArchAngel's Advocate said...

When I'm in that kind of situation I try to say something along the lines of "Hope to see them there [heaven], then". It doesn't imply that they're there or that they won't be. It ia an expression of hope, and it makes no difinitive statements. Quite honestly, I don't know if my loved ones have made it Upstairs (although I have my suspisions about some), and there are enough variables (like the fact that we're in Time and God isn't) to make speculation moot. I'll just pray for them (and since I assume they can pray for me I'll ask them to return the favor), and let God sweat over the details.

swissmiss said...

Thanks. I'll have to remember your comment when they speak about loved ones being in Heaven. I never presume one way or another about a person's salvation, it's the cavalier attitude of some of these folks that really strikes me at these moments and is quite jarring. Their loved ones could be in Purgatory suffering while they are content to conclude their loved ones are in Heaven sitting on the beach drinking Margaritas!

Terry Nelson said...

My sympathy for your husband's grandmother, and prayers.

Please don't misunderstand this, but in touchy emotional situations such as a funeral, Christ's admonition takes on new meaning, "Let the dead bury their dead."

In other words, save any doctrinal stuff for a more appropriate time and let them bury her with whatever consoling myth they desire. (Most of my relatives are protestant, and even the Catholic ones believe everyone goes to heaven. I think it is part of our cultural denial of death.

swissmiss said...

I completely agree. Rarely do I even discuss religion with them because it just causes discord. Early on I resolved to just let my actions speak for me and it has really helped. It's not my place to get involved in their family things and I don't...doesn't mean I can't commiserate about it on my blog though :)

Terry Nelson said...

Oh. I thoroughly understand how you feel though.

swissmiss said...

I need to mark this on my calendar...you came back to read the comments! Maybe I didn't word the post very well because I don't (or very rarely) discuss religion with my husband's family. I was just commenting, maybe venting some grief, about the frustration I feel. I have no intention to bring up religion, especially now!

Adrienne said...

You just go right ahead and vent! Sometimes the frustration just gets to you.

I've learned over the years to just shrug and say, "oh well." Can't do a thing to change others - all I can do is change myself and I need constant changing and updating. Full time job, doncha know:)

Cathy_of_Alex said...

I commented last night but it did not post. I probably babbled on. Bottom line: I'm praying for her and your family.

the mother of this lot said...

This is a wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it. I'll pray for your husband's grandmother and her family.