“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” Mark Anthony claims after the speech of treacherous Brutus in Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar'.
And he adds in jest, “For Brutus is an honourable man; - So are they all, all honourable men - Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.” Yet even his speech was not to honour the dead leader, but rather to further his plot of revolution.
This is re-enacted anew, using death as the vehicle for individual ambition. Indeed it has become part of the political landscape of Kenya, to organise “political dirges” and speeches apparently “honouring the dead”.
Sadly we have become so inured by this typically Kenyan vice, losing any sense of shame or surprise when it happens. We are held hostage by the Kenyan political class, who come, hijack and make banal the solemn moment of prayer and “send-off” of our loved ones, in total disregard of the grieving families. Surprisingly the family and we all, sit back helplessly watching this “desecration”, feeling powerless to this “spell”. Have we lost our humanity, besides having lost our spiritual sensitivity?
Fundamentally, funerals are about honouring and praying for the dead. They are about consoling the family and the loved ones; a moment to bring hope and peace to all those affected, that death is not the end, rather there is still a future; a time to focus on the eternity, not on the concrete individualistic present cares of opportunists.
And this is where we get it all wrong. We have let ourselves be bullied into accepting that funerals are platforms to further the “present agenda” of our political elite.
For them a funeral is an opportunity to whip emotions and harvest votes. Yet we seem to believe that, a funeral without the political class is a “failed” funeral; an “un-fitting” funeral.
Oh, and a funeral is measured, not by the prayers offered, but by the number of “political heavy weights” present. Funerals then have assumed a culture of show, indeed, show-biz. More and more they are an opportunity to show off as a family, to make a status statement, and forgetting what it really is.
That’s why we are interested in having the politicians. Families make great efforts to show fake opulence; we then save throughout our lives, so as to make a statement of pomp and might at our family’s funeral.
And yes, they also become a money making affair, with elaborate and intense fund raising, for the biggest “funeral statement”!
That is why I was so impressed by the funeral of Pope St John Paul, clearly the most popular person on earth at his demise. A simple coffin, a simple prayerful funeral mass, in the presence of the world’s leadership, and not a single speech!!
We must reclaim the sacredness of funerals. A place we go in respect and reverence, to console and to pray for the deceased.A place we stand in awe before the “wonder of life”, the “goodness of God” and the “mercy and hope” for the deceased.
With election-fever coming up, we must declare our sacred spaces no-go-zones for political campaigning.
Yes, families and churches must reclaim this space, lest we eventually find that politics and fundraising has become our religion and our God!!
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Reclaiming funerals means excluding any political speeches from the program. We must be more radical if need be, by explicitly stating it clearly in our last Will and Testament!
We must let “funerals” be funerals and not political fighting fields, nor financial business ventures.
Finally, Let us be real and honest. Away with dishonest eulogies. Make them brief and truthful, we do not need to vanish his life. What he needs is our prayers, and his family our comfort. Let us reclaim our funerals!
Mr Muheria is a Bishop of the Catholic Church