Sunday, August 23, 2009

long division

Fr. Gary Braun was kind enough to visit with my wife and me when he was in Knoxville last March. He attended the ordination and installation of Bishop Richard F. Stika. In fact, when one of the local TV stations showed file footage of the ceremony during the Bishop's recent hospitalization, Fr. Gary's face turned up on screen.

We've gotten to know Fr. Gary a little bit over the past year. He seems as morbidly interested in the Body Farm and other aspects of death as I am. Knowing that I would attend his parish in St. Louis this weekend, I couldn't wait to ask him about an unusual funeral.

A young man in his 20s passed away unexpectedly. His body wasn't found for a few days. His parents, who are divorced, decided to have him cremated and to have a Catholic funeral. At the funeral, there were two regular size urns and two smaller ones. The deceased's ashes had been split amongst the four containers. Each parent was going to put an urn in a columbarium and keep a little one at home as a souvenir. I was curious to ask Fr. Gary about the Catholic teaching on such a case.

Fr. Gary was surprised that a Catholic priest would allow such funeral to take place. The remains are supposed to be kept together and given the same respect as a body. I speculated that maybe the priest didn't know about the separated ashes until after the funeral director showed up at the church with the four containers. I imagined a more strict priest going to get a big funnel to reunite the ashes before continuing with the funeral.

I wonder what percentage of people realize that the cremation itself reduces you to brittle bones that still look a lot like a skeleton. As I learned in a lecture by Dr. Bill Bass, the bones are run through a pulverizer to create the dust we think of as "ashes."

At least the family in question used traditional receptacles. I recently read about some horrific urns shaped to look like the dead person's head, without hair. All they need is a couple of photographs from different angles. The eyes are disturbing. The sample shown online stares blankly through you. Perhaps most troubling is the obvious line that separates the lid from the rest of the cookie jar urn. If your dead loved one isn't attractive enough, you can put their bone dust into a replica of a celebrity's head.

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Anonymous KC said...

I still listen to Fr. Braun online once a week. Thanks for telling me about him. He sure gives a good Homily.


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