Outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, St. Francisville, La.

I just returned from the funeral mass of Cecil Landry, an old friend of our family’s. My mother and father went to the visitation, but Daddy was especially close to Mr. Cecil, and he couldn’t bear the funeral. It’s been raining hard all morning here, casting a certain mournfulness over an already sad occasion — a sadness mitigated only by the knowledge that poor Mr. Cecil, who has been suffering so much from his failing health, and for so long, is finally at peace.

He was my ideal of a south Louisiana gentleman. He was literally that — a gentle man — but also a faithful Catholic, and a sweet-spirited soul who had a kind word for everyone. He suffered not only in his body, but in his heart. Years ago, one of his children disappeared, and was never heard from again. A few years back, his beloved wife Margaret died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. They had been married for 50 years or so.

At the funeral mass, Father Cary Bani told about how he received a call from Mr. Cecil’s doctor on Saturday, saying that the hospital had released Mr. Cecil to go home on hospice care. After vigil mass, Fr. Bani drove over to Mr. Cecil’s to visit him. Father Cary told the congregation that Mr. Cecil, who loved the Eucharist, was in and out of consciousness. When Father Cary asked him if he wanted to receive the Host, Mr. Cecil snapped back into full awareness, and answered strongly, “Yes!”

And so he did. Mr. Cecil died in his sleep that night. Father Cary fought back tears as he told the story.

It is an awesome mercy to die in the arms of the Church. What an indescribable privilege it is to be a priest of God, and to be able to offer the dying that gift. No matter what you have to suffer for the Church, no matter what you have to suffer from the Church, in the end, there you are: the dying man and you, giving him what only you can.