Father Zajac offers new book on how to remember loved ones
Father Richard Zajac has saved every sermon he has ever preached. Those who have read his “Life Injections” books will be familiar with the way he pulls popular culture, historical events, his own life and Scripture together to form his homilies. In his latest book, “Funeral Frames: Stories to Capture a Life Well Lived,” Father Zajac shares how he uses the same technique in order to teach how best to memorialize a loved one at the time of their death.
“This is the book I wish I would have had as a young pastor. This was the book I was looking for back then and could never find,” he said, adding he has been a chaplain at Sisters of Charity Hospital for 40 years.
Unlike his previous books that he intended for the average Catholic, “Funeral Frames” is for anyone who has to deliver eulogies often – priests, rabbis, deacons and ministers.
“I found early on in my ministry in the parish that you have a lot of funerals. You don’t want to keep preaching the same sermon at every funeral. You need to be more diverse than that. And I had a growing feeling that the people we bury deserve a good send off, they deserve having their life presented as a model for others to follow,” he said.
Although he had decent homiletics professors in seminary, they never got into the specifics of funerals, weddings or other special occasions where ministers would be called to speak on something unique.
Originally written as a manual with stories and instructions on how to relate a person’s life with the story, Father Zajac found publishers weren’t in the business of printing books for such a specific audience. CSS Publishers, which reaches out to priests, ministers and rabbis, asked that he change the way he presented the material. The result is a series of 30 actual eulogies with a brief explanation of the technique used to write that particular piece.
Most selections give a one sentence instruction – “Tell of the varied ways their smile impacted not only their life, but the lives of those they loved;” “Tell of how, in bearing the heavy cross of their particular illness or debilitation, their focus was on us and not themselves;” “Describe in detail as to how despite their death, their presence will be felt.” Then using that as a frame, he adds a reference to “Field of Dreams,” “A Wonderful Life,” composer Giuseppe Verdi or Winston Churchill to jump start the look into the lives of real people Father Zajac spoke for at their funerals.
He also encourages ministers to talk to the families and friends and even search the internet to learn of this person’s life. He suggests anyone writing a eulogy to act like Jim Phelps of “Mission: Impossible,” and assemble a team to help him complete his mission of creating a unique look at someone’s life and influence.
“If I preached the same homily at John Gotti’s funeral that I would for Nelson Mandela’s, that’s not exactly the way I thought it should be. I think we need to recognize the life that is gone,” he said.
“Funeral Frames: Stories to Capture a Life Well Lived,” by Richard E. Zajac is available from most book retailers.