Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday word, 10 Jan 2009

Lucia Colombi Cosentino funeral (11 Jan 2009)
Wisdom 3. 1-9; Psalm 23; Colossians 3. 12-17; John 11. 17-27
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Our Turn To Mentor

On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Martin, at the death of Lucia; and to you Licia, at the death of your twin. Rafa, Corrine and Celeste, it will be hard for you not have your mother in the same way you did; but that does not mean that you won’t experience her presence in real and new ways.

You are not alone in your grief. The Catholic church and the performing artists guild bid farewell to one of ours and theirs, too. 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 Lucia./1/

I noted that the Plain-Dealer Guest Book contains remarks from coast to coast. One person testified, “Lucia taught me the [acting] craft every time she directed me.” Christian living is a craft, too. Like acting, Christian living far exceeds technique: it is a way of life. Direction in the performing arts calls us beyond ourselves to incarnate a character. Actors incarnate the same character differently, yet good direction helps different actors to enflesh the same character with authority and authenticity.

Authority and authenticity make our teachers memorable. Teachers’ authority and authenticity shape us and influence our later years. Lucia was a teacher like that. Teaching--at US and Regina and teaching children with special needs for the county--was Lucia’s “day job,” Martin reminded me. School teaching was the anvil on which Lucia discovered and forged her authority and authenticity, but the performing arts would refine and prove them--to use the metaphor we heard from the Book of Wisdom.

Part of the reason memories of Lucia extend coast to coast is because her authority and authenticity flowed from her not only as a teacher but as a mentor. If teachers help us learn and evaluate facts and use them logically, mentors help us practice them wisely and with feeling. Mentor, as many of you already know, was a person in Greek mythology. Mentor counseled, guarded and taught the son of Odysseus, in his 10-year absence.

Lucia’s attention to detail was not only a facet of her teaching, her attention to detail guarded you and many others. She guarded the dignity of people, and that fueled her passion for the common good and for civil rights as well as to reach to people of all ages and of every aspect of the community. Her mentor-guarding allowed Lucia to co-labor with others. She and the KARAMU Theater came together, and KARAMU further refined her skills, nourishing them in African cultures. Thus, refining and proving her teaching skills into mentoring gave birth to Ensemble. Lucia’s life exceeded the stage. Because it did, people off stage functioned as ensembles because to her people formed groups of complementary agents, who contributed to a single effect.

While that is the public side of Lucia, her family and I do not want anyone to lose sight of her personal side. This active, brainy courageous, considerate, confident, vocal, spirited and even driven woman enjoyed the silence of her garden, reading books and knitting sweaters and socks for her daughters. Lucia was a mother with all the responsibilities and privileges that entails.

Surely we see connections with Jesus in Lucia’s life, do we not? I am not extolling Lucia, as deserving of that as she is in our memories, as much as calling attention to
Jesus through Lucia. Lucia helps us see that our Messiah Jesus is not a theory, not fancy, nor is our Messiah-Mentor far from us. Jesus embraced our humanity so that we might transcend it and collaborate more and more with Jesus’ risen life, to which we have some access even now! Jesus is Lucia’s mentor as well as ours. Jesus embodied and personalized heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; Jesus forgave, loved and still does all these things by dwell[ing] in you [and me and others] richly.

The routine way that Jesus works in us is through other people. Lucia, in her life, continued Jesus’ work. Anyone who continues Jesus’ work is an evangelist, a bearer the good news he inaugurated and invites you and me to protect and to preach with our lives.

I am not alone in this. John Paul II was an actor in his youth, and as pope he was never far from the performing arts. In 1999 he wrote a letter to artists of every sort. In it he made this entreaty:
I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of [humans].
Why the human mystery? Because, as he explained, “Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves.”/2/ Directing helps us, who have acted or who now act, to know and feel the character one seeks to portray. I echo what you know better than me: empathizing with a dramatic character teaches us about ourselves and guards us from moving through life in listless ways and counsels us to be alert to cues that tempt us to be self-centered and to those that call us to mentor others and promote the common good of everyone without exception.

We humans are limited. We cannot have deep relationships with everyone. You were graced to know Lucia in all manners of ways. Lucia touched you through each of them. She has made Jesus more real and more accessible for us all, even for me who am limited to say that I know her through you. Jesus blessed you with Lucia. As you remember her, Lucia will continue to direct you with this difference. Now it is your turn and mine to teach the craft of Christian living Lucia taught you by her life. She asks you to counsel, to guard and to teach by example what our Messiah-Mentor teaches us by his life, death and resurrection. One’s talent may be the stage but it isn’t everyone’s. As Lucia demonstrated, and as Jesus blessedly confirms, the Christian craft is larger than the stage. Christian living plays through life; or as the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, gave voice to that fact, “Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his....”/3/
1. Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 27.
2. Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists, Easter, 1999, paragraph 14.
3. “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” in The Later Poetic Manuscripts of Gerard Manley Hopkins in Facsimile, ed. Norman H. MacKenzie (New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1991), pp. 106-07
Wiki-image of adjusting stage lighting is under copyright by KeepOnTruckin, who gives permission to reuse it. Wiki-image of Jesus raising Lazarus is in the public domain.

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