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A Celebration of Life

Each morning, before I leave our Bluffton convent for Mass, I browse obituaries and death notices in our daily paper. Some areas of our state (and mine is one of them) attract adults of a certain vintage and, from time to time, the name of a parishioner or a neighbor is there. The collective articles usually end with a mention of a place of worship or another site where a memorial will be held. I’ve noticed that the Mass of Christian Burial is not the most likely ritual to be named. Instead, it is simply a “celebration of life” — sometimes at a country club, on the beach or in a secular gathering place.

This trend certainly signals the decline of religious practice in our culture, and as such, it shortchanges the idea that eternal life remains. One morning this summer, after I’d seen another round of details about such celebrations, I mused that we believers, we Catholics, rely on celebrations of life every day. But our celebrations are not send-offs to a final resting place. The Mass itself is a remarkable celebration of life. As popes, saints and the Second Vatican Council have reminded us, we meet the full, risen life of Christ in the Eucharist — Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The bread and wine themselves draw us into the most meaningful celebration of life. Our Tradition reminds us, too, that the Real Presence of Christ is also found in our sacred Scriptures, fittingly called the living word of God; in the priest, who celebrates in the person of Christ; and also in the assembly, the body of Christ that we call the Church. So, whether or not the music is stunning or the homily the most brilliant ever heard, we celebrate life — and are blessed in many places to do so each day. We attend, participate, receive and go forth for the life of the world.

Aside from the Mass, there are so many everyday ways that followers of Christ celebrate life. We do so by loving our families and keeping the vows and promises we have made. We take our work, whether or not it is specifically ministerial, seriously enough to be diligent about it and sometimes even creative. We know, as St. Paul has assured us, “that in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain.” We build up the kingdom of God, whether directly or subtly.

We also celebrate life by tending our homes and gardens, caring for the earth and creating beauty for others to behold; by reaching out to the poor and offering volunteer service on behalf of all sorts of good causes; and we celebrate life by pursuing learning, seeking wisdom and being good citizens. We celebrate life by enjoying good, clean fun and having a sense of humor. As Pope Francis has reminded us, no one is evangelized by sour, dour Christians. On the way to October, which is Respect Life Month, we can resolve to celebrate life, our lives and others’, more graciously every day.

Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, Ph.D., is the diocesan director for ecumenical and interreligious affairs. Email her at