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.

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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