At Bob’s funeral, you might hear “he’s an angel now.” So much is wrong with that! First of all, saints (people in heaven) and angels are distinct beings. People do not become angels and vice versa. Secondly, there is no way we could possibly know the status of the departed unless they died innocent (have not reached the age of reason) or have been canonized as Saints by Holy Mother Church (a long and rare process).
All we know about Bob is that his journey on earth has come to an end. He has either died in friendship with God or not. This free will decision is made by each of us and is our hope for Bob. We should pray that his soul will soon leave purgatory should he now be among the Church Suffering. If he is not, our prayers will go to someone else who needs them most.
Trent Beattie wrote an interesting piece on this topic recently for Catholic Men’s Quarterly and Catholic Lane:
“But it must say in the liturgical books that you’re supposed to say something good about the deceased,” you suggest.
Actually, there is no such instruction in the liturgical books, and in fact, there is an explicit directive to refrain from eulogies. The priest is clearly told in Number 382 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) that “At the Funeral Mass there should, as a rule, be a short homily, but never a eulogy of any kind.” In other words, no casual canonizations.
Funerals are not a time to celebrate how wonderful we are, but a time to ponder how wonderful God is. St. Louis de Montfort (1673-1716) observed that
We are naturally prouder than peacocks, more groveling than toads, more envious than serpents, more gluttonous than hogs, more furious than tigers, lazier than tortoises, weaker than reeds, and more capricious than weathervanes. We have within ourselves nothing but nothingness and sin, and we deserve nothing but the anger of God and everlasting Hell.
When was the last time you heard that in a homily?
The fact that we’re sinners may not be pleasant, but once acknowledged, we can get on with living a truly holy life. How so? When we know our own weakness, we can then ask God for help. We can live in Him, rather than hopelessly trying to do it on our own. As St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897) asked, “If you are nothing, do you forget that Jesus is everything?” Then she added, “You have only to lose your nothingness in His infinity and think only of loving Him.”
Funerals, like the rest of life, are about God first, us second – and the second part only has meaning insofar as we live in God. So we pray for the deceased and remember that one day we will die as well – a thought which leads us to prepare properly by doing penance, all the while trusting in the boundless Mercy of God.
What is true with salvation in general is true with going straight to Heaven in particular. God is always willing to provide us with all we need, so if we do not go straight to Heaven, we can blame no one but ourselves, because we did not pray as well or as often as we should have. Let us remedy this problem by giving more attention to prayer, or, if necessary, start praying again. Then after a life of virtue, a real canonization may be in order for us. In the absence of such virtue, we can conclude that casual canonizations are cruel, not compassionate.
Our judgment is God’s alone. Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary made our salvation possible but not automatic. Only through making God’s will our own do we accept eternity with Him.
Trent makes a lot more points than this, so be sure to read the whole article: The Cruelty of Casual Canonizations. The comments at the link are quite lively too, so be sure to also read them.