By Father Kenneth Doyle

Q Are there restrictions as to which scriptural readings may be used at a Catholic funeral Mass? My dad has told me that he wants St. Matthew 25:31-40 to be read when he dies. He has always liked that reading and has lived his life accordingly. Is there any reason this passage could not be used at his funeral? (Northampton, Pennsylvania)

A The Order of Christian Funerals is the ritual book approved for Catholic funerals in the United States. In it is offered a selection of 45 different scriptural passages for the first and second readings of the Mass and for the Gospel.

In most parishes, it is customary for the pastor or a member of the parish staff to meet with the family of the deceased to decide which of the readings will be selected for the funeral Mass. Often, the family also has input as to what musical pieces will be played and sung. Many parishes publish a booklet containing some of the more popular scriptural passages, so that the family can read and reflect before making their selections.

The passage that your father favors, in which Jesus welcomes into heaven those who have been kind to the needy, saying, “I was hungry and you gave me food” is, in fact, one of the suggested readings.

Other scriptural passages that are frequently chosen include: Wisdom 3:1-9 (“The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”); Romans 6:3-9 ( “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the father, we too might live in newness of life”); Romans 8:31b -35, 37-39 (“If God is for us, who can be against us?”); and the Gospel of St. John 14:1-6 (“In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places”).

I have often found that, in planning a funeral, sensitive attention to the desires of the family can go a long way to comfort people in their time of sorrow.

Q I am a sports professional and have various opportunities for endorsement deals. Can you tell me whether it’s all right to be sponsored by a brand whose stores are open on Sundays? (I know that Sunday shopping is a grave sin.) (Naples, Florida)

A First, I admire the question. It shows a special sensitivity to the importance of spiritual values. The morality of Sunday shopping depends, in my mind, on what you are shopping for. I can see how you might need a carton of orange juice, a newspaper or a bottle of Advil on a Sunday; but skis or a new tennis racquet don’t seem to present the same urgency, and they could well wait until Monday.

A sporting goods store (which I presume is what you’re talking about), by staying open on Sunday, could be forcing its employees to forfeit a day of worship, family time and suitable relaxation. I would be hesitant, though, to say that Sunday shopping is necessarily a grave sin. If you were to skip Mass in order to shop, that might indeed be a grave sin  and I would question those who spend several hours every Sunday doing the family shopping for the week when a different day could work just as well.

In your own situation, the ideal would be to tell the company trying to recruit you that you find their policy of Sunday openings objectionable; coming from a professional athlete, that might have an impact. Alternatively, I suppose, you could take the job and work from the inside to change the company’s business practice – but I see that as being unlikely.

Q Who are the men protecting Pope Francis who are wearing suits and ties? Are they part of the Italian national police force, Swiss Guards or a private security firm? (They seem to protect the pope not only at the Vatican, but they travel with him on papal trips.) (Edison, New Jersey)

A The men you see in suits and ties protecting the pope, especially on trips outside of Rome, come from a variety of security forces. The storied 500-year-old Swiss Guard, clad in colorful uniforms when they guard the entrances to the Vatican, also have armed plainclothes members who travel with the pontiff.

In addition, the Vatican has its own 130-member police force, the gendarme corps, who are assigned to accompany the pope. (Domenico Giani, the inspector general of this corps, is the pope’s personal bodyguard and is often seen off the front fender of the popemobile.) Also, on foreign visits, the host nation’s own security force  as per diplomatic protocol  is heavily involved in orchestrating the pope’s protection.

The difficulty comes in trying to balance security interests with a pope’s desire to minister in a personal way to his flock. Once, shortly after the 1981 attack on St. John Paul II’s life at an audience in St. Peter’s Square, I asked a Swiss Guard if there would be stricter security protocols in place going forward. The guard said, smiling but with a touch of frustration, “You can keep people away from the pope, but you’ll never be able to keep this pope away from the people.”

I saw this exemplified in 1995 when St. John Paul visited New York City. I had been charged with managing the movements of the “tight pool,” the handful of videographers and still photographers who were given close-up access at each of the papal sites, and so I had a U.S. Secret Service agent assigned to me.

When the pope came out of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the plan had called for him to get into the popemobile and ride the one long block to the cardinal’s residence. Instead, St. John Paul decided to wade into the crowd on the sidewalk and began shaking hands. I said to the agent, “That must terrify you when he departs from the plan.” To my surprise, the agent said, “Actually, it’s the safest thing of all. If we don’t know what he’s going to do, then nobody else can know either.”

Father Doyle is a retired priest in the Diocese of Albany, New York. Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, NY 12203.