My friend just sent me this photo of the sign outside of Majestic Mortuary Service Inc., a funeral home in New Orleans.
The motto caught her attention, and I can see why.
The dead are not the only ones who deserve to be treated with reverence, of course. For the living, too, this is their due. Yet, if you went to a restaurant that advertised “We serve with reverence”, you might think that’s a bit much.
This, however, shows my point that how we die (and how we naturally conduct ourselves before the mystery of death) has the power to humanize our culture.
It certainly isn’t silly for a funeral home to say “We serve with reverence.” Rather, it sounds elegant and fitting.
What does this tell us about the human person and, even, a dead human body?
A dead human body is the kind of matter that deserves to be treated with reverence.
I’m sure the funeral home team endeavours to treat their living clients with reverence, too.
What, then, does it mean to serve persons with reverence?
In The Art of Living, Dietrich von Hildebrand writes:
The basic attitude of reverence is the presupposition for every true love, above all, the love of neighbour, because it alone opens our eyes to the value of men as spiritual persons, and because, without this awareness, no love is possible. Reverence for the beloved one is also an essential element of every love. To give attention to the specific meaning and value of his individuality, to display consideration toward him, instead of forcing our wishes on him, is part of reverence. It is from reverence that there flows the willingness of a lover to grant the beloved the spiritual “space” needed to freely express his own individuality. All these elements of every true love flow from reverence. What would a mother’s love be without reverence for the growing being, for all the possibilities of value that yet lie dormant, for the preciousness of the child’s soul?
Reverence is the virtue of making a right response to the reality of a particular value.
While reverence is always the appropriate attitude before the mystery and uniqueness of the person, it’s striking to note this funeral home sign as an example of this spiritual attitude being affirmed so explicitly.