Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday word, 18 May 2007

Rita Newton funeral (18 May 2007) Ps 23; Rv 14. 13; Jn 14. 1-6
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
A New Pass

On behalf of Gesu Parish and from me, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Ann and Kate, at the loss of your Mother; to you, Kevin, Robert and Rebecca at the passing of your grandmother; to you Ruby and Isabella because you will have to learn your great-grandmother in a new way; and to you, Rita’s friends and colleagues.

I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Josephine Rita Newton. I’m deeply grateful to you, Ann and Kate, for painting a loving picture of her in words, and to our Catholic faith. I venture a few words to console and to strengthen you; to help you appreciate God’s astounding compassion by noticing that Jesus’ victorious dying and rising were present in Rita’s life and live in yours./1/

Kevin recalled for us his impressions of Rita. They help us link Rita with the celebration of the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We tend to allow his paschal mystery to become abstract. Every mass celebrates the mystery which makes us who we are as Christians. And every funeral links us with that same mystery, the person of Jesus risen from the dead. Yes, funerals link us with risen Jesus in painful ways. Yet the pain of suffering and death is as much a part of living as every joy we experience.

Part of our pain flows from our loss: Rita is no longer with us as she had been. The small word, loss, is a vast, stormy experience. Risen Jesus tells us not to fear, exactly what he told his disciples. Rita, herself, heard Jesus speak to her. She endured the pain of becoming a widowed mother. She did not fear; she allowed her relationship with Jesus, his Mother and his saints to encourage her and strengthen her to raise her family. With them as friends, Rita did it well.

The church, risen Jesus’ community of believers, “inspired her,” Ann told me. Rita didn’t live her faith for herself, which is a model for us all. Rita lived her faith for others, especially her family.

Living faith means many things. To live faith means to live compassionately. Compassion includes actively listening, being approachable, sharing experience, offering advice and being sensitive to discomfort and willing to laugh. Rita enjoyed all those. Remember always: her compassion made her matriarchal in the best sense of that word, which is the way I heard you mean it, Kate.

I want to note two phases in Rita’s life which I call a new manner of making her way. The first was early in her life, the second late. The first is a distinction, the second a greater distinction.

Rita was surely born with dignity and blessed with wisdom. Her photo gracing our funeral worship aid exuded both to me when I first saw it. Her experience as the sole woman in law school, who graduated at the top of her class, must have been difficult, lonely and even painful even as it was exhilarating. I experienced a unique educational experience at a phase of my life, so I know I’m not speculating. It certainly helped me negotiate things in ways I would not otherwise be able to do. Rita built on her experience and with another woman created a partnership which flourished and served the community well.

The second and greater distinction colored the later years of her life. Rita was a lung-cancer patient, who gave new meaning to stoic and to acceptance. How? Rita never lost her elan, nor did Rita ever make anyone feel victimized or burdened by her cancer.

While cancer is nothing we’d want anyone to endure, God works in and through it. In ways we will never know now, Rita’s illness refined her faith. While both it and the passing of time did not allow Rita to look the same as when she sat for her RTA pass photo, Rita retained those qualities which elude every camera: dignity, wisdom, faith and her spirited nature.

Her RTA pass Rita used for travel around town. Through a life of many good works, to use the Spirit’s phrase, Rita has traveled into eternal life. That is truly of greater distinction because divine life will refine her faith into an unhindered encounter with risen Jesus. Her share in divine life will allow Rita to advocate on behalf of her family and friends, which is a compassion without equal.

In the days, weeks and months ahead be alert to the new way Jesus will make your mother, your grandmother, your great-grandmother, your aunt, your neighbor and friend present to you to continue to refine your faith in our risen Messiah Jesus and to increase your hope in eternal life as you live each day of your lives.

/1/ Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 27.

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