George H.W. Bush’s funeral was a beautiful send-off from beginning to end. From Bob Dole’s inspiring salute the night prior to George W. Bush’s heartfelt eulogy to that absolutely breathtaking rendition of “O God, our help in ages past” by The Armed Forces Chorus and the U.S. Marine Orchestra.
But it was something more.
“What does it tell you that the feel-good events in Washington these days are funerals?” asks a columnist at the New Yorker about the recent state funeral of former President George H.W. Bush.
Perhaps it means that it takes something as consequential as the death of a former president to snap us out of our petty political fights and have us think about something more important for more than a couple of minutes, which is quite unfortunate.
Wednesday’s service at the National Cathedral was indeed patriotic. It was indeed beautiful. And it was indeed a nice break from Washington usual swampiness. But, while watching, I also realized that this was more than all of those things.
This — I realized — was good for my soul.
According to Catholic teaching, burying and praying for the dead are corporal and spiritual works of mercy. But they serve the living as well as the departed.
They remind us of the higher, final things. They remind us that our lives are not our own and that they truly belong to those whom we are meant to serve.
They remind us that we still have work to do with the time we have left, and that we should live with the eternal in mind. Former President Bush’s service was a solid reminder indeed for all of us.
Yes, he was a decorated war hero. He had a lengthy public service record before he even thought of running for Vice President and President. Yes, he navigated American diplomacy on the world stage through the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War.
But while these accomplishments played prominently in the eulogies offered, they were not the central theme. To those most important to him, our 41st president will be remembered more for his lifetime of service to his family and dear friends.
“Not all of us can do great things,” according to a quotation often attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta. “But we can do small things with great love.”
See, to the people most important to him, what goes down about him in the history books sits much lower on the list than his lifetime of service as a husband, father, a friend, and a Christian. My fellow husbands and fathers, we should all keep this in mind as Bush Sr.’s memorials come to a close, because these are the calls to service that we are presented with every minute of every day.
Our funerals may not be on national television or attended by former presidents and foreign dignitaries, but they don’t have to be. We’re all going to be in the box at the front one day. We may never be presented with the kinds opportunities to affect the course of human history that George H.W. Bush was, but we don’t have to.
“Sic transit gloria mundi” goes the reminder for newly elected pontiffs, as well as for the rest of us. “Thus passes the glory of the world.” Whether our honors and titles are great or small in this world, they will eventually fade in light of the eternal. We all have our own calls to service. Keeping in mind our own mortality, let’s answer.