Florence Wank funeral (05 Mar 2010)
Ecc 3. 1-14; Ps 23; 1Co 12. 31-13. 8; Jn 6. 37-40
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
On behalf of Gesu Parish I extend our sympathy and prayers to Rita, at the death of your sister. I extend our sympathy and prayerful support to Lynda, at the death of your dear mother, and to Jessica, at the death of your dear grandmother. Not having your sister, your mother and your grandmother in your life the way you did is a heavy sadness. We gather to pray and connect her life and death with the life, death and resurrection of our Messiah Jesus. We pray to the Lord also for ourselves1 to help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of [our] faith, until we are reunited with our Messiah Jesus and with Florence for ever.2
This is the shape of Catholic grieving. We allow all the human dimensions of grief to be caught up in and blessed by the dying and rising of Messiah Jesus. Our action and Jesus’ blessing allow us to be more courageous than grief is sharp. It will allow you to experience Florence’s presence in real and new ways.
I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Florence, so I’m grateful to Lynda and Jessica for selecting scriptures we have heard and for sharing thoughts about her with me. I’d like to reflect briefly on the scriptures with you. Your thoughts, Lynda and Jessica, helped me notice confident love emerge from them. First, confidence.
While Psalm 23 is frequently chosen at funerals, it is a psalm for the living, and it expresses joyful confidence in one’s Creator and Redeemer. Movement through life threads through the psalm, with a particular tone: allowing God to lead and guide. Leading and guiding do not overshadow another’s initiative. Rather, leaders and guides nurture another’s desire, they don’t squelch it. One who does squelch another’s desire or doesn’t allow another to take initiative is not a guide or leader but a tyrant. Florence was confident that God was no tyrant but her life’s guide. She reflected that in her professional life at the May Co. and people caught it, remarking that Florence “didn’t try to sell me something but [help] to make me beautiful.”
Psalm 23 models faith in God during life’s journey in its note of hospitality as well as movement. It echoes the exodus, when God led the people—shepherded is the image—and nourished them along the way, as hosts provided food and refreshment to guests.
Florence’s kindness and respect—“sweet” was the word you used, Jessica—flowed from her confidence in God, confidence she wants you, her family and friends to enjoy as well. Florence expressed her confidence in many ways, from caring for her home as long as she could, baking, playing her grandchildren’s games with them and moving from full-time to part-time to be with her grandson, Michael, when his health demanded he have it.
Florence’s devotion to Mary and to the saints enhanced her confidence, helping her embody her faith and show it in loving ways. St. Paul eloquently reminded us that Christian love is more powerful than our other gifts. Christian love is selfless, long-suffering and is the key to the doors of hope and faith. Practicing Christian love is that still more excellent way.
This still more excellent way leads and guides us, also, to what we call godly living or saintly living. Saints are not born, they are refined by life, especially, reflecting on ways in which they negotiate life’s questions, hurts and agonies with God’s grace. Florence’s devotion to Mary and to the saints helped her live a saintly life, which Michael recognized his grandmother lived.
With courage we rejoice with Florence because her confident love assures that as she moved through life, so she moves from life, limited as we know it, to unlimited, divine life forever. Resting in peace is our faith-phrase for that, and Florence’s peace can make your hearts more expansive to share it now, even in a partial way. Jesus, we heard, made this peace possible, when he spoke of doing the desire of his Father...who sent him: this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. In Jesus nothing and no one is lost.
Jesus returns us to how I began: so we all may more clearly notice his confident love, which Florence shared. Indeed, Florence would want you to share Jesus’ confident love, too. Some of the ways you will share it will be subtle, and all the ways you will share will be personal. I share with you one way.
Rosario, I know that you grieve, too, at Grandma Wank’s passing. You respected and loved her very much. I also know that together with Jessica you are both sad that Grandma will not be able to see you marry.
My niece, the first of my only sibling’s children to marry, experienced what you are experiencing. Jeff admired my father, and Diana loved him very much. As my father’s ability to rally from his final illness diminished he said to Diana he was sorry he would not be at their wedding to see her marry in the coming months. Diana replied without missing a beat, “You’ll be there, Grandpa, you’ll just be in a different seat.”
Diana’s faith-filled response began to work in me. I was not aware for many months that her faith stirred mine to pray to be alert to the new presence of my father Jesus desired to offer me. Diana’s wedding felt different without my father physically present; yet, it did not feel as empty as I feared it might. Diana and I, thanks to hearing her, were alert to a new and very real presence of my father in our lives.
So be alert to the real and new presence each of you will experience of your sister, your mother, your grandmother, your friend. The sadness of death does give way to the bright promise of immortality,3 which we experience in real even though partial ways during our lifetimes. Florence will intercede for you so you will more freely exercise your confident love as she did—not out of duty but to guide you and lead you in the faith of Jesus.
- Order of Christian Funerals, 216.
- Order of Christian Funerals, 202.
- Preface of the Dead I, Roman Missal.