I recently attended a memorial service for my older cousin, Paul, back in the community where I grew up. While I have not always considered it so, I increasingly appreciate the blessings of being born into a large family. My Mom came from a large, farm family of Irish Catholics. She had two brothers and three sisters – all of whom married and had four to eight children. It’s a challenge sometimes to remember all my cousin’s names, never mind the next generations of their children and grandchildren. In contrast, my Dad had only one sister but my three siblings and I share two wonderful cousins from that side of the family.
The memorial was held at a Catholic Church near where Paul grew up. He hadn’t lived in that community for nearly fifty years. Yet, it was the spiritual home where his wife, children and siblings decided to celebrate his life. The small church was full of older friends and generations of relatives of all ages. Certainly not everyone there was a practicing Catholic or connected to any particular faith. Nonetheless, the celebration was familiar to most and invited active singing and participation.
As I reflected on my own comfort participating, I realized how grateful I am to be part of this large extended family. As I age, being close enough to where I grew up that I can return to participate in these important rituals of love and remembering is a blessing.
This experience sharpened my realization of the connection between faith rituals and community. I found myself appreciating the benefits of being part of a faith that, as some of our guest contributors have shared, where the inspiration outweighs the limits of the institution. Our family has a way to come together and mark milestones. For sure, not everyone in the family practices Catholicism or perhaps any organized religion; yet many come and are part of the celebration of life and love rooted in faith in something or somebody.
In my reflections, I realized “family” is not always family of birth for many for lots of reasons. Some grow up not knowing their biological family; others are estranged for a host of reasons. Others come from small families or families separated by huge distances around the world.
We all seem to share a hunger for some way to make sense of the big events in life and death. We mark births, coming of age, love commitments and deaths through a variety of secular and spiritual rituals.
My family’s ways of marking a death may itself be a dying one. I can imagine that each generation may be less connected to this faith and to these rituals. Just as often, families come together with no connection to any faith. Instead, they are connected by some form of community to celebrate commitments of love and deaths.
Whatever the way we come together, there is a desire to celebrate the love that has been shared. In these moments, most of us overlook past differences and focus on what unites us. Some turn to a ‘God’ in these rituals; many do not. Yet there is present a desire to be together, to be one in celebration of love and life. To me, this desire is indeed a faith, a faith that gives me hope in how our rituals may evolve while our desire for universal respect and love grows.