Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Wednesday word, 05 Nov 2008

John Pfordresher funeral (05 Nov 2008)
Wis 3. 1-9; Ps 23; 1Jn 5.1-5; Jn 14. 1-6

Homily of Rev. Paul D. Panaretos, S.J.

Warmth. Life and Mystery

On behalf of Gesu Parish and personally, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Mary, at the death of your dear husband of 55 years. In expressing our condolences to you, Jeanne, Betsy, Anne, Kate and Ray, I thank you for the ways you supported your Mom and Dad in these long months of his baffling illness. Their many moments bear bittersweet memories for you. I encourage you not to lose them because affection and remembering are intimately connected. Your children grieve, too. It will be hard for you not have your Grandpa in the same way you did; but that does not mean that you will not experience his presence in real and new ways.

You are not alone in your grief. Gesu Parish, the Catholic church and the artists’ guild bid farewell to one of ours and theirs of many years. I offer a few words to console and strengthen us in our grief; to help you appreciate God’s astounding compassion by noticing Jesus’ victorious dying and rising were present in your husband, father, grandpa and in you as well./1/

As a spouse Jack was honored to make one life with you, Mary. As a parent Jack was deeply proud of you, his children and grandchildren. Honor and parental pride are not things; they are qualities of the human spirit to which each of us gives particular shape. Honor and parental pride are two colors on the palette of many spirit-colors, and Jack painted with them in his way. God’s astounding compassion is, after all, an art of the highest order, and people are called to exercise their share of God’s compassion.

Exercising compassion makes us more humane, and it humanizes others. Exercising compassion also divinizes us, it awakens us to the divine image in which each person is created. Jack’s passion for justice was the fruit of God’s compassion for him. Living at once as human and divine is an art. Art surpasses skills and technique: spouses know that; parents know that; children know that; siblings know that; grandchildren know that; people of faith know that. All of us need reminders that we know that. Enter the artist to do that sublime act of charity for us! I offer an example.

My eyes turn often to one of Jack’s watercolors in the parish office parlor. It’s an 8-inch by 6-inch watercolor of a view of Gesu from the Miramar sidewalk; at the viewer’s back is Fairmount Circle. The trees are bare, and snow covers the lawn and evergreens the way icing tops a cake. But the scene is by no means stark or cold. Jack painted the sky his eyes captured as a spectrum of color, which breathes his depiction of his parish with warmth, life and mystery. “Now that’s a water color sky”--to give voice to Jack’s words.

Visual knowledge is a different form of knowing than musical knowing, literary knowing or mathematical knowing. Jack’s visual artistry helps me appreciate what is always in front of my eyes so that I begin to see that nothing is ordinary. That is the charity Jack bestows on me daily. That is the charity with which he loved you his family and loved into you. His charity allows many to see extraordinarily.

In our history of faith visual artists have helped believers in every age to appreciate faith’s warmth, life and mystery, especially as they depicted scenes from the life of Jesus, Mary and the saints. Indeed, churches existed before museums, and churches were tabernacles of grace-incarnate before museums were repositories of beauty. At the end of the 6th Century, Pope Saint Gregory the Great wrote the Bishop of Marseilles: “Painting is employed in churches so that those who cannot read or write may at least read on the walls what they cannot decipher on the page.”/2/

The “page,” of course, may be a leaf of a book, the canvas Jack so often chose, or the score on which composers graph the colors of the sounds they hear before we do. The paramount page is none other than we humans. Souls, as scripture uses the word, means our selves. What we overlook or are unable to see, God is aware. God sees sparks although we see only stubble.

Jack knew that in his bones, which made you, his family, his prized “pages” on which he painted and who painted him. His art of living his faith allowed him to live and breathe as begotten by God. Our sorrow is a child of being separated from him; though separated from you and me, Jack is not lost but hidden for a time until Jesus raise[s] him on the last day and reunites us with him.

This in-between time--separated yet not lost but hidden for a time--is hard to bear. Absent-presence is our Catholic faith's irony. Jack’s keen sense of irony, allowed him to grasp our Catholic irony. It helped Jack persevere in his incapacitating illness. We knew his moods in the past months the way one knew his moods throughout his life, but they did not overtake his faith, his modesty, his patience, his dignity or his humor.

About Jack’s humor: Anne revealed to me that Jack would intentionally and consistently mispronounce names of teachers, composers or neighbors and then laugh when he was corrected. How I wished to have been a fly on the wall when he mispronounced my name!

Jack’s compassion, his sense of the right way to be in the world, his talents all shaped you, his family, and many of us. Jack gave human shape to the words from the First Letter of John: God’s children are being revealed. Christians, God’s children, are strong and gentle, loving and confident, devoted to the end. Those are marks of Jesus’ faith. Jack lived Jesus’ faith, and Jesus assures that Jack will be victorious in death. He encourages your patient endurance without him until Jesus reunites you and us with Jack for ever!

1. Cf. Order of Christian Funerals 27.
Epistulae, IX, 209, cited by Pope John Paul II in his Letter to Artists, Easter, 1999, note 7.
Wiki-images of a sky over Monmartre and of the Resurrection Chapel in Brussels are used according to the GFDL.

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