Monday, March 11, 2013

One's parish is not one's property

I know, I know, the Catholic blogosphere is supposed to be all Papabilia all the time this week--who do you want to see elevated to the papacy, who would be a disaster, is it time for an American pope (short answer: h-e-double-hockesticks no!) and on and on.  But if I joined the other Catholic bloggers in endless chatter about this stuff, you might end up missing the story of the Indiana Catholic parish that is bitterly divided over a most serious issue: the refusal of the church to permit a grieving widow to install a couch-shaped, NASCAR-logo engraved headstone over her late husband's grave.  I kid you not:
An Indiana woman who wanted to honor her late husband with a headstone that captured his interests in sports and the outdoors is suing a Catholic church for refusing to install it.

Shannon Carr spent $9,600 on the black granite headstone to mark the grave of her husband, Jason Carr, who died in an August 2009 automobile accident. The headstone is shaped like a couch and features images of a deer, a dog and color logos of NASCAR and the Indianapolis Colts.

The Rev. Jonathan Meyer, priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church, notified the monument maker that the headstone didn't meet the cemetery's standards and couldn't be placed in the church's century-old graveyard, The Republic reported. But Carr says in her lawsuit that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis Properties Inc., which owns the cemetery, never produced any regulations for the plot until more than a year after she tried to have the headstone installed in 2010.

The issue has divided the church community and sparked allegations that the church hasn't treated Carr's family with compassion, which Meyer denied.

"We provided the family funeral rites, prepared a funeral meal and offered family members individual counseling after the services," Meyer said. "We were with them the entire way until this matter came up."

Meyer says in an affidavit that photographs of the monument were shown to the St. Joseph Parish Council six weeks before Carr purchased it and that the council determined the monument wasn't acceptable because of its secular nature. He said he informed Carr of the decision.
Read the rest here.

Now, I don't mean to make fun of anyone's grief.  The loss of a beloved husband has to be an excruciatingly painful thing, and Mrs. Carr shouldn't be mocked in her sincere desire to honor her husband's memory.  He was a young man, only 32 at the time of his death in a tragic auto accident, and he left two sons as well as his grieving wife behind.  But as you can see from that preceding link to Mr. Carr's obituary, Mrs. Carr and the family had already asked family and friends to wear NASCAR or Colts shirts and jeans to Mr. Carr's Catholic funeral, and Father Meyer apparently didn't object to that small, if unusual, gesture of love for the deceased man, so I don't think this is a case of "Catholic Church is being a big meanie to a grieving family."

I think, rather, that this is a case of "Catholic Church reminds people that gravestones aren't supposed to be secular in character."  Putting words of love, relevant Bible verses or prayers, and the like on gravestones reminds us that the dearly departed continues to exist and that it is a good and wholesome thing to pray for their immortal souls, which even now may be straining to leave Purgatory behind and enter forever into the eternal presence of God.  Using a headstone, instead, to enshrine a person's earthly interests and hobbies is a quintessentially pagan thing to do, in that it focuses the viewer on the secular elements of the person's life instead of his or her eternal destiny.

Now perhaps Mrs. Carr has never learned this (newsflash: Catholic catechesis continues to hover somewhere between spotty and abysmal), but that is why this should have been a teaching moment.  Or perhaps, and I don't want to psychoanalyze someone from Internet news articles, her tenacity in actually suing the parish for not permitting the headstone is a manifestation of unresolved grief and pain stemming from her tragic loss.  Only those who actually know Mrs. Carr might know this, though, and like I said, it's beyond anyone's capacity to diagnose from mere news accounts.  The point is this: one's parish is not one's property, and if the pastor says you can't have something--whether it's the name "iKid" for your child in baptism, a unity candle or a flock of doves at your wedding Mass, a personal videographer at your child's First Holy Communion, or a secular headstone in the parish cemetery, the question to ask would be, "Why?" not "How dare you say no?"  Most of the time--and I emphasize that most--there is a good, sound, Catholic reason why the thing you think you're entitled to or that you believe everyone else has is something that, in point of fact, the Church doesn't permit.

It is fair to point out that in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council this was not always the case.  People were told they couldn't have a rosary at a wake, or that they couldn't have an actual wake before a funeral, or that their daughters couldn't wear veils to their First Holy Communions (though that never seems to have been a widespread problem), or that they couldn't have the Agnus Dei in Latin at a wedding Mass, or that some perfectly harmless, if private, devotion couldn't be allowed to happen on church property even when there was no chance anybody was going to confuse it with the liturgy.  But that is because that some pastors, in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, forgot that the parish wasn't their property either, and if parishioners these days are confused about that, at least they come by their confusion honestly.

1 comment:

Alisha De Freitas said...

Oh. My. Erin... Oh. My. Sorry for this pointless comment but I just can't get past the NASCAR gravestone. I just can't.