Wisdom 3; 1-9; Psalm 23; Romans 14. 7-9, 10b12; Matthew 5. 1--12a
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Angie, at the death of your sister, Nancy. We especially pray for you because you survive all your siblings, Joe, Carl, Bill, Angelo Sam and now Nancy. Like your brothers before you, you will experience Nancy’s presence in real and new ways.
I extend our prayers and condolences to all of your family and friends. You are not alone in your grief. The Catholic church bids farewell to one of ours today. 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 Nancy./1/
Before I continue I want to thank Beth Rizzo for representing you, Angie, to introduce Nancy to me. I was not privileged to have known her, and I’m indebted to you Beth because you helped me to shape my homily at your aunt’s funeral mass.
I noted in the Plain-Dealer Guest Book that Celia Giganti in Florida mourns the loss of her “dearest friend.” Friend and family, I suggest, are lenses through which to view both Nancy and Jesus, our risen Savior.
Jesus accepts us as we are always inviting us beyond ourselves to become the individuals Jesus created. Together with Angie, Nancy gave herself to her family. In the United States family often means spouses and their children in their home. Italians know better. La familia è piu di mama e papa è i loro bambini. Family extends to aunts, uncles, cousins--not only by blood but by marriage, too. Individuals grow to be themselves because of their family relationships, which for Nancy, and you her family, was extensive.
Part Greek, I know we Mediterranean people see family with a larger lens. While we cannot claim to have the corner on family, we enjoy an expansive appreciation of it. Jesus, and our life in Jesus now as the church, is far more expansive than our Mediterranean appreciation of family.
We are friends of one another because Jesus called us his friends. Friends and family are good lenses to appreciate Nancy as well as Jesus, who calls us his friends. Jesus’ friendship entails blessing as the gospel reminded us. The particular blessings Jesus named are conditions by which we enter God’s kingdom--poor in spirit; meek; mourning; being single-hearted; longing for God’s justice; mercy; making peace; even persecution because Jesus befriends us. They indicate our imperfections not our flawless strengths. That Jesus would befriend us because of our needs may shock us. Jesus’ friendship is truly expansive, as la familia suggested.
Jesus’ choice to befriend us in our needs also consoles us, especially today. Our need today is measured by our loss and separation from Nancy. We believe our loss and separation are temporary, but that doesn’t make our loss less sharp. Yet Jesus’ choice to befriend us in our need today not only consoles; his choice calls us beyond ourselves. Nancy modeled that for you in her desire to welcome you and her friends into sua familia, vostri familia. With Angie, and later growing young women and men, they made your pranzo della domenica, the center of your family network.
Jesus does something similar for us and all his friends. Jesus invites us to his table as we bring our sister to church for the last time. His meal nourishes us until Jesus reunites us with Nancy and welcomes us into the eternal banquet of heaven. Nancy joins Jesus to prepare our places.
As I noted at DiCicco Brothers Funeral Home late yesterday afternoon, one of the category names on the picture collage of Nancy and sua familia, vostri familia was “full life.” It recalled Nancy’s long life. It moved me to remind us then and moves me remind us again that even better than length is life-in-its-fullness. Nancy is at its threshold. She begins it because, like Jesus, she did not live for herself. Your memory of her will not only remind you of her selflessness.
Your memory of her will encourage you to live that way, not only for your family but for the greater circle of people, from whom Jesus invites you to receive as well as to give. Why? So that each of you may become the individual Jesus created you to be. You have Nancy as a model of that faithful freedom. Blessed by Jesus, she is your Ninth Beatitude.
1. Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 27.
Wiki-image of pasta dish by Sami Keinänen is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license. Wiki-image of El Greco's Last Supper is in the public domain.