In the middle of the busiest time of this year, I found myself having to attend a funeral and finding, once there, that it was to be a Humanist funeral, rather than the multiundenominational ceremony I had expected.
I was pleased to find that the Crematorium chapel had not been denuded of its crucifix, and, being Catholic, with rosary in pocket, was able to focus on the image of Our Lord and ask his Mother to intercede with Her Son for the dead person.
I didn't pay much attention to the "service" - it must have been one because we were handed an "Order of Service" - but I listened hard when the person (taking the service? leading the ceremony? celebrating?) at the front started off by telling us what Humanism is.
After a bit of "Hello sky! Hello flowers!" we got down to business: humanists believe that this is the only life we have and live it to the full here on earth; humanists don't make judgements about the different choices each of us makes about the way we will lead our lives.
It may have been that the celebrant hadn't thought it through, or it may be that the humanists haven't thought it through, but I kept thinking about Harold Shipman, especially being in a place in which the only rites celebrated are about death: do humanists really believe that Dr Shipman's were just lifestyle choices, and that his decisions to rid the world of, basically, people older than him into whom he could get to stick a needle, were simply his, and that the rest of us should not intrude on his right to make that particular choice?
I'm sure that none of them do, and that the celebrant was trying to make a different point, and was simply failing spectacularly, but I was left thinking about what happens when you start cutting away at the guy ropes.
The fact is that as Catholics we are absolutists; our Faith has a lot of blacks and whites: certainties, if you like. Some things are right and some things are wrong. You need something as bracing as a humanist service to realise that any compromise with things that don't belong to our Faith is wrong. It would be nice to think that that sort of wrong-headedness would be alien to any Catholic.
During the funeral service I kept a straight face when one of the deceased's favourite songs was played: "Morning Has Broken": it was an opportunity for God's Grace to creep into a few places which weren't expecting it.
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