Sir 3. 1-14; Ps 23; Rv 14. 13; Jn 14. 1-6
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Maureen, at the death of your mother. Richard, Geoffrey and Michael we pray for you because you survive your grandmother to whom you were dear. I know something of what you are experiencing because my father’s mother lived with us and died with us. She and I were close, I didn’t know how close until after her death. Be more courageous than your grief is sharp. Your confidence in our risen Messiah will help your children grieve well. Josephine’s great-grand-children, you will help your parents and grandmother to experience your great-grandmother’s presence in real and new ways.
I add my condolence to the staff at Judson Park, Josephine’s last home. Maureen told me how you recognized and appreciated her mother’s kindness. I’m not the only one she has told.
Today the Catholic church bids farewell to one of hers. I offer a few words to console and strengthen you in your grief; to help you appreciate God’s astounding compassion by noticing Jesus’ victorious dying and rising were present in Josephine./1/
I noticed the online Guest Book of the Plain Dealer brought you words of comfort from as near as Ohio and as far as California. Those words amplify the comfort you give each other as you gather today. I noticed in that Guest Book two refrains. One was strength: Josephine was a “determined” woman with “a positive attitude.” The second refrain described one way Josephine’s strength registered: encouragement. Florence Rahaim phrased it this way:
[Josephine] would say to us, “Keep going,” making us feel encouraged about many things that were bothering us.You all will miss her many other ways she expressed her love, her generosity and her joy in you. I can say that because that was one thing I sorely missed after my grandmother died. I was 17. For many years before that I felt that I grew up with three parents: Mom, Dad and Grandma. I can imagine how she showered you with her Lebanese pride because my brother-in-law is Lebanese, and Abe and Elaine are grandparents themselves.
Maureen, when you were introducing me to your mother as we sat in the parish office Monday, you evoked Abe when you spoke of your mother and food. Abe always wants people to eat. Food flows from Lebanese like water flows from fountains. You know that. Richard, you know it in particular because as fast you bought your grandmother food it was out her door and into the hands of others. I even learned Josephine gave cooking lessons to people from her assisted-living apartment!
What lessons about Jesus does the life of your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend offer us about Jesus? Of the many I’d like to mention two. First is generosity. Jesus taught it by living simply and by spending time among people for whom simple living was simply living. To measure generosity by things is elusive and endangers our hearts. As descendants of Josephine Nahas you have experienced that generosity is not measured in things but by an open heart. Josephine’s heart opened not only to give but to embrace you. Her first lesson is that receiving love teaches us to love well.
The second lesson I call a “new migration.” Josephine came to the United States from Lebanon. My Irish grandmother with whom I lived was an immigrant, too. She migrated when she was 19. As a boy I was fascinated, and often asked her why she came and how. On the one hand, whatever our age, it isn’t easy to leave places or let go what is familiar. On the other hand, one of the things that make us human is a desire or will to move and discover.
You and others you know have spoken with Josephine about the past. Share those memories with each other. As you do, be alert to how your mother, your grandmother, your great-grandmother and friend lived in the present, moving toward life and especially new life, both her “positive attitude” and Jesus’ new life extended to her and to all of us.
Devotions and sacramentals help us focus on the new life Jesus extends to us at each moment and to the divine life of his Father and their Holy Spirit. The number devotions is less important than how one or a few help you stay aware of Jesus’ new life offered to you. Josephine had many which helped her.
How do we know they helped her? Because they strengthened her desire for the good of all. To desire good for all indicates that we are one with Jesus and helps make present now his new life to come fully one day.
Through her dying Josephine has migrated for the last time to rest in the absolutely new life Jesus has prepared for her. Her life with you has prepared you for Jesus’ new life; and her generosity and encouragement to you and others have shown you concrete ways of welcoming that life and making the new migration to it more part of you, visible by how you live.
Today you have a new patroness interceding for you. You are also fortunate your mother, your grandmother, your great-grandmother and your friend offered you concrete ways to grow closer to Jesus; and as his disciples, you can lead others closer to Jesus by how you keep alive by your actions what Josephine modeled for you with her great generosity and encouraging love.
1. Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 27.
Wiki-image of Osmorhizabrachypoda is in the public domain. Wiki-image of Day Two by Jonat, who gives permission to reproduce it.