Eccl 3. 1-11; Ps 23; Rm 5.1-11; Jn 16. 19-24
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Running the Risk
On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Albert, at the sudden passing of your spouse of 55 years; to Bruno, Louis and Sarina at the death of your sister; and to Katherine, Albert, Caroline, Christine and Anne at the death of your mother. Your children grieve, too. Be more courageous than your grief is sharp. Your confidence in our risen Messiah will help your children grieve well. Tim, Matt, Sarah, Mary, Elizabeth, Albert, Marshall, Maddy, Alexandra, Anna, Claire and John, you will help your parents to experience your grandmother’s presence in real and new ways. All of Amalia’s family will experience her presence in real and new ways.
Today the Catholic church and Gesu Parish bid 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 Amalia Kaminsky./1/
We are grateful for the family’s words of remembrance. Their words help us connect Amalia with the mystery of Jesus’ dying and rising we celebrate today. I want to reflect briefly with you on the scriptures Amalia’s family chose for her funeral mass. Amalia, as we know—and you better than me—was a person of faith. Faith shapes us, yet its shaping does no violence to our selves. As we Catholics say, “Grace builds on nature.” That Catholic conviction shapes my reflection.
Something I learned about Amalia from her family was easy for me to appreciate. When my father was 20, a stroke crippled his father, and my father became responsible for the home and lives of his father, mother, sister and his. Becoming head of the household in a practical way, shaped my father into both a responsible man and someone who appreciated everything as gift—even that for which he labored.
At half my father’s age, Amalia’s mother died and she became caregiver and caretaker. What-ever we may say about how that shaped her and, perhaps set a direction for her life, that event certainly did not warp who Amalia was. As we heard, she was stylish, caring, loving and selfless. Amalia was ready to give you her blouse, scarf or sweater if you complimented it.
Amalia knew that God-with-us in Jesus did not obliterate the human aspect of the world with its limits and imperfections. To use the words of Ecclesiastes, both time and the timeless--God’s self--exist together. This graced knowledge testifies to those virtues we name coming from God: faith; hope; love. They are not obvious; we know them by the actions they prompt and the effects they allow us to produce.
St. Paul said well for all time how we recognize someone who lives those virtues all we desire to live; and Amalia embodied them: we glory in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even glory in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope. Hope does not disappoint.
I translated St. Paul literally to help us appreciate the faith of your sister, spouse, mother, grand-mother & friend: we glory in...the glory of God. St. Paul’s point is not one of human initiative or of any conditioned state in which one finds oneself. St. Paul points us to God taking the initiative to reconcile us and give us peace, even when things may point to the absence of reconciliation and peace.
People reconciled by God through Jesus by their Spirit can glory, not on the basis of accomplishments—Amalia did not do that; nor about limitations, which Amalia came to to know intimately, but because they feel clothed by a secure felt-knowledge of God loving them. If anyone wants to know from where Amalia’s humble strength, her strong humility comes it was from knowing she was clothed by God’s loving care. You, her family above all, made that divine love real and gave it human contours; you personified it, giving it each of your names.
Clothed with God’s love that way is nothing short of miraculous! I am speechless when I consider that Amalia persisted in her humble strength, her strong humility in the face of being a long-distance runner, who lived these last years of her life with Parkinson’s disease and its ravages. Your sister, spouse, mother, grandmother and friend will be for you a parable of God’s love well lived.
After Anne completed Gesu School, Amalia was free to work beyond her home. She was the “media lady” at and for the school. Another kind of service became even more dear to her. Timing can be grace, and Gesu Parish embarked on RENEW, which is as its name suggests, a renewal, both personal and parish-wide. “RENEW happened at the right time,” as Caroline put it, “for our mother to serve with other women.” As someone who has personally experienced RENEW, I can say that service is first giving glory to God and growing in a graced personal relationship with Jesus. It is personal, and because it is not private, it is a relationship in Jesus shared with one’s small group of seekers. Knowing Jesus impels the group to serve others in his name.
That’s a compressed description. RENEW is a remarkable journey for anyone who risks it. I say “risks” on purpose because when we allow God to transform and enlighten us, we behold parts of ourselves that confuse us, frighten us or that we would rather not notice. Yet, the grace is that we do that in the company of Jesus, his Father and their Spirit. While no one sees one’s life in an arc of time from past to present to future, beholding ourselves with graced vision—to see ourselves as God does—we do integrate our past into our present in order to live our future in surprising ways.
With regard to Amalia I have pondered her shaping at age 10 when she became a caregiver and learned that responsibilities have joys not only burdens; through her adult years as a long-distance runner, who never expected to Parkinson’s disease would catch her. Like the disciples, from the other side of the Last Supper, who had confidence in their risen Savior, so that they had no qualms about conversing with him as they once had, Amalia had much to converse about with Jesus. Her RENEW journal is a guidepost for her family, a record of her graced conversations with Jesus.
Although it is a searing sadness for you because she is no longer available to you, your sister, spouse, mother, grandmother and friend has crossed the finish-line. Her joy is complete. Her strength is restored, and God continues to pursue her with God’s goodness and love, completing her graced transformation.
She remains your intercessor but with a new advantage: Amalia is one of the faithful departed, who prays for each of you to grow in the faith of Jesus to be the person Jesus created. As each of you discerns how to live the faith of Jesus at home, at school, at work, in your neighborhoods and your parishes, you will take the baton of virtues of both Amalia and God and cover the distance she has prepared you to cover. Each of you is living testimony to a disciple of our day. Amalia would want you to extend the glory of God she found to give her life rich, strong, simple and abundant meaning.
1. Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 27.
Wiki-images of a Resurrection icon and a Last Supper icon are in the public domain.