Eccl 3. 1-14; Ps 27; Rv 14.13; Mt 11. 25-30
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Work and Rest
On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Jean, at the death of your spouse; to you, Chris, Mark, Gretchen and Eric at the death of your father. Be more courageous than your grief is sharp. Your children, Henry, Emma, Patrick, Tatum, Grace and Emerson, will miss their grandfather. Your confidence in our risen Messiah will help your children grieve well. Henry, Emma, Patrick, Tatum, Grace and Emerson, as you grow you will help your parents to experience your grandfather’s presence in real and new ways. All Hank’s family and friends will experience his 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 Hank Hentemann./1/ We are grateful, Chris and Eric, for your words of remembrance. Their words help us connect Hank with the mystery of Jesus’ dying and rising we celebrate today. I want to reflect briefly with you on the scriptures Hank’s family chose for his funeral & a detail they reveal.
When Jean and her children were selecting scriptures for Hank’s funeral mass, they helped me learn again that scriptures are not only about people and events in the past; they are biographical of us all. Work and rest in scripture appeared to them repeatedly to fit Hank. Hank’s family reminded me that Hank’s descent from German immigrants—Hank was 1st-generation German-American—shaped his attitude toward work. Hank’s immigrant ancestors helped each other struggle and work to survive. Hank struggled and worked, and with Jean to help him, so that they and their children could thrive. Hank worked with modesty and humility, never losing touch with people: vital for a civil defense attorney.
As you spoke of Hank, you reminded me of my father’s desire to be at home. Hank’s desire to be at home allowed him to balance his career with life at home. Hank loved his home and used his talents to make their house a home for Jean and their children. Mark likened Hank to a German primogenitor, the ancestor who established his estate and cared for it not only for the present but for its future after him.
While Hank’s work demanded him to use sets of skills and knowledge, they did not fashion him into their image. Rather, his fairness, his decency, his enjoyment of family and friends and his sensitivity to human predicaments as well as human potential shaped him as thoughtful, modest and without pretense. By exercising his talents outside of work, Hank “got his peace,” as Eric put it; and Chris turned the phrase, “Dad was a project guy.” In addition to the long deck, rooms, lawn and woods were a few of his projects.
Yet another, different project was dear to your dad: passing on to you a desire to live your lives in ways that affected other people and the world for the better. His “red-wine wrap sessions” with you was one of his ways of doing that more real, more vital project than his others.
If anyone doesn’t know, Hank enjoyed long conversations with his children when they were together, sipping wine as they solved the problems of the world. Because Jean had already solved them in her way, she retired early. Hank’s family can give you details. My point is twofold: one, conversation is a great teacher, helping us learn while we’re not aware that we are learning; two, Jesus engaged people in conversation so they might learn God and God’s astounding compassion.
I’m convinced the most effective learning happens when we’re unaware we are learning. Afterward, we come to realize our minds and our hearts have become more spacious, that we have grown more patient and more wise. You used “patient” and “wise” frequently in describing your husband and your father. I trust you are aware that you enjoy a share in his patience and wisdom. You are his estate, for patience and wisdom were its land and its walls. Patience and wisdom were Hank’s more real success; you will continue to bless others with his more substantial success by your lives, you his more vital project than his others. If a spouse and father’s success can be measured, then Hank’s success rested on his patience and his wisdom. They were his work and his rest.
The author of Ecclesiastes wrestled with work and rest and noticed degrees of difference. The author expressed one degree with the word, time and another with the phrase the timeless. Time denotes what can be seen, felt and measured, including human toil. The timeless denotes things more substantial, like patience, wisdom, decency, fidelity, hospitality and concern, which make us humane and images of God. They give us respite. Usually hidden, we know godly values by their effects. Godly values endure beyond all else.
In our Catholic sensibility work and rest point to deeper realities, which I think Hank intuited. Looking to Jesus helps us appreciate how different! When Jesus praised his Father for revealing hidden things to unpretentious people—what childlike means—Jesus was responding to hostility self-important people leveled at him because Jesus accepted prostitutes and sinners and shared with them time and table-fellowship./2/ The unpretentious ones recognized God drew near them in Jesus. When Jesus promised to give them rest, he promised them God’s life, what no adversary could wrest from them.
By looking to Jesus, I suggest Hank’s success flowed from work and rest, which participated in the divine life Jesus revealed and continues to reveal by his Spirit. The routine way Jesus reveals is through other people. Because Hank pursued this work and rest, in both his career and in the simple tastes his life at home offered, you are proud to call him husband, father, grandfather, relative, friend and colleague. It also makes it difficult to let him go, when you desire to have him with you. Our Christian conviction that life is changed not ended/3/ challenges us to let go of Hank, no longer available to you, his family and friends, as he was.
We shall be reunited when Jesus returns in glory with salvation for his people./4/ It is while we await Jesus’ return, the resurrection of the dead and our reunion with them that we need to remember that promise and live from it: that in baptism we have all died in the Lord. That is a blessing we find difficult to imagine and none of us can explain. It is at once both a dying and a living, a rising with Jesus yet to come to completion in each of us.
Hank goes ahead of you: as in life, by his livelihood and his more vital project of instilling in his family and others substantial, godly, enduring values of patience, wisdom, decency, fidelity, hospitality and care, God transforms him into God’s project of rest and the unending life God works more completely in Hank, the same work and rest in which all of us place our hope.
1. Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 27.
2. Matthew 11.18-19.
3. Preface for Christian Death I, Roman Missal.
4. Penitential Rite (C,ii), Roman Missal.
Wiki-images of an icon of the Beatitudes and of the Lamb in a folio of the Book of Revelation are in the public domain.