Doris K. Pfaus funeral (03 May 2010)
Lam 3. 22-26; Ps 23; Ph 3. 20-21; Mt 5. 1-12a
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to Richard at the death of your spouse; and to Gretchen, Heidi and Suzette. Not having your spouse and your mother in your lives turns a new and difficult corner for you. We have gathered with you and for you to help you to be more confident than your grief is sharp. Your confidence in our risen Messiah will help you grieve well. You will help each other experience your wife’s and your mom’s presence in real and new ways.
I also extend our prayers and sympathy to your children and theirs. It is hard for you, too, to let go of your grandmother. Your parents will help you to do that. Let them know when you need help to let go of her. You will continue to grow with many memories of your grandmother and her love for your children.
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 Doris K. Pfaus.1 I want to reflect briefly with you on the scriptures her family chose for her funeral mass.
The reading from the Book of Lamentations is a prophetic reminder at the end of Doris’ earthly life and the beginning of your time without her in the way she was. Being with a person who suffers and endures—Doris, I came to know in visiting her was perseverant—being with another who suffers and endures taxes us even as it opens new ways of thinking about life. I am close to where you are because I buried my mother earlier last month. This time both challenges faith and invites us to enter it more freely.
Even as we may feel exhausted, the Book of Lamentations reminded us that the favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; they are renewed daily for us. The book is aptly named because God is not deaf to human tears and crying. God is full of mercy for the living and the dead. It may be easier to accept that God is full of mercy for the dead because Doris is at rest, to use a Christian phrase Richard and Suzette made theirs as they planned Doris’ funeral with me.
Doris was confident of God accompanying her, they expressed to me, confirming what I noticed in visiting Doris as she gradually weakened. When you brought her home—Richard and Suzette told me—you felt Doris felt at rest, at home even before dying, saying from her bed looking at all and nothing in particular, “Everything is so beautiful.”
Doris saw beauty long before that. She imagined it in reading so many books. She saw beauty in the children of Gesu school when she volunteered at its library, and later at the Beaumont library. Doris saw beauty in you, her family and friends.
Richard recounted parenting times when Doris and other moms formed a reading group. They came together in their children’s nap-time hours to discuss a book with one another and enjoy adult interaction, which all parents need.
It occurred to me much more happened in those hours and after them. Maybe that much more has to do with why members of that reading group have remained in touch for so long. It is even greater. The familiar words of Jesus in the gospel offer a clue to this greater, wondrous thing.
The Beatitudes state crisply the conditions for entering the kingdom Jesus’ proclaimed, the kingdom of heaven. They are hard blessings because they are not rewards for achievement but for fidelity in uneasy and difficult circumstances. Humans are blessed not because they have accomplished God’s justice but because they faithfully hunger for it in deed and word. Humans are blessed not because they’ve overcome poverty or denied or escaped tears, humility or persecution; humans are blessed because they faithfully embrace them and allow them to change them even as they seek to better themselves and others.
Hard blessings are hard to swallow, even if Jesus offers them. Our difficulty distracts us from wondering what allowed Jesus to pronounce them. Imagining Doris and her friends getting away during their children’s nap-time to reflect and to discuss what they read led me to ask myself that question: how did Jesus arrive at those blessings?
Jesus had learned the lives of his family, how they were refugees when seeking to fulfill Caesar’s command just before his birth. Jesus had come to know his people and how they were dominated by foreign as well as their own religious authorities. Jesus also had grown into an intimate relationship with God, whom Jesus called his dear father. All the while Jesus was reading, not words, but the heart of God and the hearts of people and placing them in the heart of his dear father. In other words, Jesus was reading people and telling them by his words and deeds God’s faithful desires for them: to share God’s life in every circumstance.
As Catholics, God in Jesus by their Spirit continue to read us. The more we appreciate God reading us in God’s blessing ways, as Jesus revealed in his life, death and resurrection, the more confident we grow of being alive in the company of Jesus, who promised he would abide with us forever.
Doris has been translated into her new reading group, the communion of saints. Doris will enjoy fully God reading her; pronouncing her blessed because of her faith; and freed from human limitations and sufferings. The grace in her words—which you recognized as graced, “Everything is so beautiful”—is for you. The bittersweet flavor of living without her is tempered by feeling assured she now rests. Yet, the bitter is not overcome by that sweet.
Life is bittersweet. Jesus read something altogether new into human life by his death and resurrection. He makes it real. Already, little by little and often not enough for us, Jesus transforms us to share in his life. A prayer I often used to close my visits to Doris put it this way:
May all who suffer pain, illness, or disease realize they have been chosen to be saints and know...they are joined to Christ by his suffering for the salvation of the world.2
There again is that hard blessing: hard because we can never understand it; blessing because it now is Doris’ eternal present. That pray is for you and all friends of Jesus, who reads us and pronounces us as his blessed saints. Today, Doris intercedes for you to grow faithful like her; recognize beauty in the least things and the great; and to be reunited with her to share with her the glory Jesus bequeaths to all his faithful people.
- Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, #27.
- The Pastoral Care of the Sick, #60.