(11 Aug 2009) Is 25. 6a, 7-9; Ps 23; 1Jn 3. 1-2; Mt 5. 1-12a
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Les, Doug, Chris and Karen at the death of your mother, Monique. Your children grieve, too. Your mom’s final months were long and challenging for you as well as her. I know what that’s like because my sister informed me while I was living in Asia that Alzheimer’s began to manifest itself in our mom. When I returned in six months I was able to help my sister, who had been doing the lion’s share of being with our mom and getting her good care.
Although my mom is still alive, I grieve often as she lives her long good bye, as Alzheimer’s is aptly called. I pray that you be more courageous than your grief is sharp. Your confidence in our risen Messiah will help you grieve well and come to experience your mom’s presence in real and new ways.
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 Monique./1/
We are grateful for the words of remembrance Doug, Chris and Karen offered. They helped us connect your mom and her passing with the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I am grateful to Karen for selecting the scriptures proclaimed at Monique’s memorial mass. They shape my brief reflection with you.
I met Monique at University Hospital after Monique’s surgery. Even in her pained weariness, Monique was delightful. She looked very tired, and I asked her if she slept at night. Monique told me she did, but the most draining thing for her after her abdominal surgery was sitting up in bed. That was more tiring than the short walks she made to restore muscle tone and her body’s energy.
Unfortunately, Monique was unable to make steady progress. That is particularly painful to you, her children and friends, because Monique was vibrant. Her final illness and its repercussions challenged her in many ways, particularly in letting go.
Not only did we staff members who visited Monique these many months notice her weakening, we also noticed her resistance in the face of it. This resistance is no shortcoming or failing; it is part of our human condition. Being with Monique did not mean that you, Les, Doug, Chris and Karen, or any of us could affect changes that would restore her health. Being with her--whether in person or over distances that separated you--was more important than anything you did. Being with Monique was more–life-giving than doing for her.
I saw that at The Normandy when I visited Monique there. More than once did I see a caregiver sitting with a resident outdoors or in the person’s room. One day when I arrived at Monique’s room, caregiver, Debbie, was sitting in a chair at the head of her bed. That was what Debbie was doing. She spent more time doing that than any other service she performed to ensure Monique’s comfort. I did that, too.
Why is that so important? All of us can name challenging times in our lives when people accompanied us through a challenge. All of us can recall how important their presence was, although they could and did not change our circumstances.
Monique weathered many challenges in her long life, from her youth in France to raising her family in the States and seeing them grow to adulthood. For a vivacious, thinking and thoughtful Monique, her challenge to let go--of her strength, of her routine, of her house, of her independence--Monique’s challenge to let go was steep and lonely. That’s why to have company was so important for her; why it was so life-giving because everything by which Monique measured her life was ebbing.
Vivacious Monique did not want to die. I know she didn’t because a caregiver observed what I observed, and Karen confirmed that.
Of course, Monique’s life is changed not ended./2/ That conviction of our faith challenges us to let go of Monique--she is not available to you, her family and friends, as she was--even though our desire and the assurance of our faith promise that we shall be reunited when Jesus returns in glory with salvation for his people./3/ It is during the interval while we await Jesus’ return, the resurrection of the dead and our reunion with them that we need graced companionship. That’s why we come here. We pray for ourselves as much as, or even more, than for Monique.
Graced companionship is not limited to church. God works in every moment of our lives. At each moment our triune God creates us. When people enjoy clarity rather than live under a veil, to use Isaiah’s image, people enjoy God’s companionship. When we experience anew our connection with God--St. John described that connection as being children of God--we enjoy God’s companionship. Jesus revealed the implications of being children of God throughout his life on earth.
When she was still alert and able to communicate, Monique remarked to her family that at The Normandy she felt love--loved by the caregivers and some of the residents. Monique’s final journey to let go and to accept God changing her life not ending it is Monique’s lesson to me. Being accompanied means we allow others to love us, we allow others in, we allow God in. Allowing others is active; it doesn’t seem so because we are not in control. The Beatitudes challenge us precisely to welcome God’s loving kindness each day so that, like Monique, we will one day be able to rest in God’s merciful doing and enjoy new life, life more vivacious than we can imagine.
Until we enjoy God’s life in an unveiled way and rejoice to see God as [God] is, graced companionship in its many forms, especially as human accompaniment, we will recreate us and wipe away the tears, which blur our faith-vision and challenge us to live it.
1. Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 27.
2. Preface for Christian Death I, Roman Missal.
3. Penitential Rite (C,ii), Roman Missal.
Wiki-images of Jesus announcing the Beatitudes and of the New Jerusalem are in the public domain.