Pastors preside over hundreds, if not thousands, of funeral services over the course of their career. Some of them are for people they know well, others are for complete strangers. Some are done under tragic circumstances, others are done at the end of a long-lived life. I would suspect that having to deliver on one of those services is tough many times. What can you say about someone you hardly knew? How can you not be at least partially “going through the motions” sometimes when it similar readings and songs are selected? How can you possibly “get psyched up” for another “performance when you do them day in and day out?
I am sure Father Matthew Mankowski faces this. But on Friday, October 18, 2013, the man met his moment. And he succeeded. Many of us are put in a place at a particular moment and time and are faced with the challenge – will we live up to it? Some of us succeed marginally. Some fail. Some avoid the moment as best they can. But sometimes, one of us rises to the occasion and inspires the rest of us. Father Mankowski did that.
At my nephew Bryce’s funeral, father was absolutely genuine. He felt our pain. He poured his soul into the funeral mass. You could tell he was struggling with the emotions, the questions and the weight of the moment.
He said a couple things that were very important. One was he told us it was “okay to be angry with God”. We needed to grieve and part of that grieving was anger. But what he said next was MORE IMPORTANT. He said that “God would understand”. Wow, I never thought of it that way. But God is a benevolent God and he understands we need to be angry. So we have absolution to question God, perhaps in an angry voice, “Why?”. And He will understand. We all needed that absolution and it feels good.
The second thing he said was that we would never know on this earth why Bryce was taken from us at a young age. It is inexplicable to our human minds. The only way we would ever learn is through our faith. At the right time, we would find out. But in the meantime, we need to live with faith.
The final thing he did was bring some humanity and some humor to the service. At the end, he surprised everyone (including my sister and her family) by playing a “tribute” to Bryce. After speaking a few final words, he moved the microphone to his iPod and played the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars. Bryce loved Star Wars. This brought a smile to the assembled masses and allowed us all to think of Bryce as the kid running around doing something with Star Wars. Isn’t that a fantastic image to leave us with?
The man in the moment knew what to do to make us all feel a little better. Can’t ask for anything more than that. Thank you Father Mankowski.