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Is Roger Ebert in heaven? Is Pope John Paul II?

Deacon Greg Kandra points to the funeral mass held today at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral for film critic and cultural omnivore Roger Ebert, and takes issue with celebrant Fr. Michael Pfleger for suggesting to the mourners that Ebert could be in heaven. It's not that Ebert had a somewhat unconventional view on theology, but Greg says that eulogists should never go there:

Maybe Im being picky, but a guiding principle for Catholic funeral oratory is: dont tell people that the deceased is in heaven. You dont know. And no matter how deserving the person might seem to be, there are doubtless some who will argue otherwise ... Funeral preachers: offer reassurance and hope and consolation. But do not promise canonization. Pfleger seems to have disregarded that concept.

Now Michael Pfleger is justifiably controversial for all sorts of reasons, but I'm not so sure that he deserves this criticism. For one thing, this is what Pfleger said:

The Rev. Michael Pfleger gave the last blessing over Ebert's casket. "May the angels lead you to paradise," he said.Then he spoke directly to Ebert's wife. "I know as Roger ascends into heaven, the balconies of heaven are filled with angels saying, 'Thumbs up,' " Pfleger said.

That seemed fairly conditional, at least at the start, and fairly standard as far as consolation goes. That sort of thing is said all the time at the funeral of hierarchs, like Pope John Paul II, for example, by none other than Cardinal Joseph Raztinger, soon to be Benedict XVI:

We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet I don't recall critics highlighting that as a major problem.Is it in fact a problem? I think overlong eulogies are a bigger issue as far a funerals go, and Ebert's seems to have been a pretty well-run service. Kudos to Cardinal George for giving it a thumbs up.

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James Kabala,I was being ironic, or perhaps sardonic. But I keep remembering an incident from when I was in high school, or perhaps the year after I graduated. One of the Christian Brothers who taught at the school had become a good friend of my family and me. There was a car crash in whichif I remember correctlythree students died. He knew the mother of one of the students, and he told me he was speaking with her and she said, almost breaking down, "It's not possible, is it, that he is in hell?" Now, he was a good and compassionate man, but he said, "You have to accept that it's a possibility." I personally would never have said that. Of course, I personally find the concept of hell barbaric and primitive. I don't see how a loving God could send a person to eternal torment. (I don't buy the argument people choose hell and God just let's them make that choice.) I must say that I have no sense of the continued existence of anyone that I have known who has died. I am not saying I don't believe in an afterlife. I'm just saying that I have no sense, no feeling, that, say, my mother continues to exist somewhere. I don't say it's impossible. But if I did have that sense, or even had a strong belief in the afterlife, I really wouldn't want to go through the rest of my life wondering if my mother is in hell.

"I was told afterwards, rightly or wrongly I dont know, that priests were not supposed to eulogize lay persons, precisely because they often do not know them well enough."I recently attended the funeral of my sister which was held in my small, hometown Midwestern parish in which none of my family had resided nor attended since 1977. My surviving sister and I met with the parish priest and spent an hour talking with him about our deceased sister. He asked lots of questions. When he gave the funeral eulogy it was like he had known him all of his life. We commented to some of the parishioners who attended the funeral and who had known my sister and they indicated that he is a truly pastoral priest who makes a great deal of effort to know about those whom he eulogizes.It is up to the survivors to ensure that a priest who is not familiar with the deceased knows enough to be able to say something intelligent and meaningful. If the priest won't take the time to listen and learn, find another priest.

Ebert was taught by the Sinsinawa Dominicans, including one of whom happened to also be my 8th grade teacher (at a different school and at a different time). No wonder he was an intelligent thinker rather than a parroter of the catechism!

My Liturgical Theology professor and dear friend Fr. Richard Rutherford, CSC, taught us that leave-taking rituals across the religious and spiritual landscape have in common three fundamental components, rather like a symphony in three movements: 1-mourners acknowledge that someone they know and love has died; 2-they remember and celebrate the deceased's life within the context of her or his ultimate commitments; 3-they commend the deceased to the next dimension of existence. As a hospice Chaplain, I have prepared and presided at hundreds of funerals of all kinds, using as my guideline these three principles. I have found that survivors uniformly appreciate a structure that honors not only the deceased person, but also provides a context in which to place the deceased's life and legacy in a larger context and gives survivors a sense of hope. As a Christian clergy person, I don't believe that my role is to tell people what God will do with this or that individual; at the same time, I take as my starting point the One who prayed that his murderers might be forgiven. That gives me comfort as well as I ponder my own shortcomings and infidelities.

The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. In the Los Angeles Cathedral there is a complete floor below the church which is a very highly finished mausoleum. In addition to casket burials it has 5,000 niches for containers of cremated remains. See: http://olacathedral.org/cathedral/mausoleum/docs/Mausoleum_floor_Plan1.p... is now very much accepted by tne Church

James and David, about hell. Hell is real, trust me but it really is by the free will of God that it has to exist. If God gives us all freewill, how could he possibly make anyone who hated him spend eternal life with him. Quite a few saints have seen hell and wrote about it, the most famous St. Faustina of Divine Mercy. I provided this link earlier on her visit to heaven, hell, and purgatory. http://www.divinemercysharjah.org/dm/heaven_hell_purgatory.aspRecently I saw a story about this priest in FL who had a NDE and also saw hell (unlike the best sellers which all mostly go to heaven). It isn't church approved, but he is a Parish Catholic Priest and not selling anything. http://www.frmaniyangathealingministry.com/As for hope, their is hope for all of us until our last breath. One of the many things Sister (Saint) Faustina also taught was that before we take our last breath, Jesus comes to ALL of us for that last chance at acceptance. I forget which saint it was, but she prayed and prayed for a relative for conversion who ended up jumping off of a bridge. She was so mad at God she told asked him how all of her years of prayers were ignored. His answer: Don't you trust in me that I was bewteen the bridge and the water?I highly recommend St. Faustina's Diary.

At last I understand. Condemning someone to everlasting torment is an act of mercy.

It is said that the angelic host plays Bach when performing music for God. Mozart, a la compagne! [among themselves - spelling?]Roger Ebert is certainly included in the company!

Thanks re the Catholic view of cremation and disposition of the ashes FOR THE BODIES OF CATHOLICS. Does the Church care what we do with non-Catholics? Or, as a Catholic, will I go to hell for following my mother's weird funeral instructions. Quick answers are appreciated. Offline if you'd rather, but only if you have helpful info.

See: http://www.catholic-cemeteries.org/cremation.aspxLife changes and so do the practical applications when life ends.

Are we really so unhopeful that we think the majority of those who have died are not in heaven? Do we not want to celebrate their lives and examples of loving service? Is this body in a casket merely another cadaver to be sprinkled and incensed, but not remembered and loved? The prohibitions by so many celebrants and liturgists against eulogy approaches and inclusion in the homily for either the Vigil service or Mass of Chrisitan Burial seems to deny the very humanness of the deceased and the meaning of their life to those who remain. To prate on with pious reminders of disembodied theology simply means the preacher must not have prepared well or actually has nothing relevant to say. The mourners and guests of the family need to hear hope, love, faith and positive views from the preacher and the church. We are not talking canonization, but we are talking belief that God has a plan that includes bringing all of us safely home. Else why pray the Song of Farewell at the final blessing?

Agree, Mike. The teachings of Jesus seem to have been forgotten. God is like a woman who, when she discovers a coin has been lost, lights a lamp and sweeps until she finds it. And God is like a mother who, when her child asks for bread, does not give the child a stone, and when the child asks for a fish, does not give the child a serpent. Etc. Reliable information about God the Parent is found in the gospels, not in theology/philosophy/astrology/private revelations/etc.

What seems to us complex and paradoxical may be simple in God's sight. Lacking divine knowledge, however, we can either accept complexity and uncertainty or insist on a sham simplicity. And the complexity seems pretty intractable, as indicated by the numerous comments others have posted. Though I can't pretend to add anything new, a few points seem worth emphasizing:The hymn "Dies Irae" may sound like a downer, but it is firmly in the Biblical tradition. Amos 5:18 and Rev. 6:16-17 (with its wonderful image of a wrathful lamb) are just two of many passages attesting to that. Emphasis on stern punishment, assuring divine justice, is part of offering consolation to the oppressed, dispossessed, and cruelly treated, whose experience tells them that there is no justice. And in the end, that entails insisting on the reality of hell. But what does that mean, and in which way is that part of the faith?Whatever the merits of visions reported by saints like Faustina, such private revelations are not part of the depositum fidei. Anyway, we have enough to do just dealing with the Bible and official teaching.We are cautioned against pretending to know with certainty that any given person has been damned eternally. But must we not believe that at least some of the worst among our fellow mortals are in hell? At least one very respected theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, was a firm agnostic in that regard. He was clear that being damned is a real and dreadful possibility for everyone. But he assessed the content of relevant Scripture and Tradition, and he concluded this: We may actually hope that everyone is saved, though we cannot know it. The distinctions already made between knowing and hoping, and the wording of the hymn In Paradisum, are very much in line with that.

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David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.