Father Walter Birkle used this example recently during his excellent sermon for the funeral Mass of Father Michael Peluso.
Seems as if a funeral home in California embarked upon an aggressive marketing campaign to sell caskets: they would “custom design” caskets! An ardent fisherman, for instance, could have a casket fashioned as a fishing boat; a golfer, one like a cart, and so on.
The best seller, however, turned out to be a casket made to look like a heavy cardboard shipping box, actually wrapped in packaging paper, and tied with cord for mailing. Stamped boldly around the package-like casket were the words: RETURN TO SENDER.
Not a bad anecdote to use for this blog entry anticipating November, the month the Church reverently recalls the faithful departed.
We can count upon nature to set the atmosphere: the days are shorter; the dark comes earlier; the sun is shy; the winds more blustery and cold; the trees get stark; the flowers shrivel; and the grass subsides.
Nature is dying, winter approaches.
No wonder Holy Mother Church advises us to contemplate death.
Does that scare us? Is that, literally, morbid?
Not for the believer: Death is as natural as birth.
Some trepidation is understandable. After all, preservation of life, survival, is our most potent instinct. Thus, in a human way, we shudder at the prospect of death, and we fight it. Of course. God wants us to savor and hold on to life until He calls us back to Him.
Way back on the day of our birth, we fought leaving the safety, security, and comfort of the womb, didn’t we? “It’s nice and cozy in here, and who knows what’s out there, anyway?” is the question the baby in the womb unconsciously asks. So we fought that birth, to our mother’s great discomfort!
And we also shudder at the birth to eternal life to which we all are invited.
But the believer embraces death as a friend, “brother death,” as Saint Francis called it.
We come from God, and we are destined to return to Him for all eternity. We are marked, from the moment of conception, RETURN TO SENDER!
Thus, as much as we savor this earthly life, we know it is passing, its abundant joys are but antipasto for the main course God has in store for us, and that its many sorrows will pass away, “where there are no tears.”
When God gives life, He intends it to last forever. When we ruined it, He sent Jesus, who “by dying, restored our life, and by rising, restored our life.”
Spring and summer do not last . . . autumn and winter come. The wise person always uses spring and summer to get ready for the months when nature slumbers.
November reminds us that we are branded, RETURN TO SENDER. All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) memo us to contemplate our eternal destiny, and gratefully and reverently to pray for those who have gone before us.