Theresa M. Oswell funeral (22 Jan 2011)
Eccl 3.1-14; Ps xx; Rv 21. 1-5a, 6b-7; Jn 11. 17-27
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to James and Gregory, at the passing of your beloved mother; and to John, as you let go of your devoted sister; and Cliff, as you let go of your treasured aunt. Not having your mother, sister and aunt in your lives is a steep challenge. We’ve gathered to help you negotiate that challenge and to be more courageous than grief is sharp. Your confidence in our risen Messiah will help you grieve well. You will help each other experience Theresa’s presence in real and new ways.
James and Gregory, I extend our prayers and sympathy to your children. It is hard for you, too, to let go of your grandma. Your parents will help you to do that, hard as it is. Let them know when you need help to let go of her.
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 Theresa M. Oswell.1
I became acquainted with what you know and have known: that Theresa was an independent, “fun-loving friend,” who was industrious and a faithful Catholic. This was how Theresa lived. At a young age she became responsible for caring for her family. She enjoyed the help of her younger sister. Responsibility thrust on a young person can sour a person on life; or it proves one’s character for life. Theresa was favored by the latter, which she reflected to others. If people wondered where Theresa got her assertive drive as well as her sense of humor and her care for others, it may well have been from the way she negotiated the responsibility she shouldered early in life.
The first reading from Ecclesiastes suggests that this was not all Theresa’s doing. God has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without humans ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. In classic Catholic language Theresa cooperated with the grace God bestowed on her. She cooperated early in and later in her life. Service marked both those seasons and times in between.
When you and I hear the word time we think of hours, weeks and years. We tend to think chronologically, after all. The Hebrew word we translate as season means a stated time, something measured by more than hours. The author, reflecting on changed circumstances, was convinced that every affair under the heavens played its part in the season of God’s grace, God’s timing. The varied aspects of Theresa’s life, which these familiar words from Ecclesiastes frame, all share in the season of God’s grace. Theresa’s devotion to her Catholic heritage testified to that during her life.
That is a more realistic way of seeing life’s twists and turns. It also allows one to notice that difficult experiences need not exclude God. Theresa’s service and interest in others testified to the Book of Revelation’s conviction of God’s abiding presence: God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. That is easy to forget. What is easier to lose is the conviction that, appearances to the contrary, God’s abiding presence makes all things new, beginning now.
Theresa shared that conviction. Her friends and colleagues, who later in her life affirmed her qualities as a servant-leader, left her and you with a written memory of her conviction. All of us share from baptism being made new. Our share is partial during our lives. Jesus completes it in each one’s resurrection. While anyone would want it now, it remains for our future. Martha admitted as much to Jesus when she said to him, “I know [my brother] will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”
Our resurrection in and with Jesus is our true and real survival. Jesus invites all of us to point to our real and true survival by how we live. And Jesus, who is our resurrection, completes what we have begun as best we can in following him during life. He does that by sharing fully with us after our lives are complete the life which is our real and true survival, his resurrection.
Because Jesus did not minimize Martha and Mary’s grief for their brother, by no means do I ask you to minimize yours. Jesus shared their grief. The season of death has visited a lively woman, who set down her years. That season challenges you to place her into God’s heart and carve a new place for her in your hearts. I do ask you to vibrate with the stirrings of faith as you let go of your mother, your sister, your aunt, your grandmother and your friend. We cannot go back, and Jesus does not expect us to try. Jesus does offer you something new as you let go of Theresa, releasing her into the safety of Jesus’ new creation. Our prayer for her to inherit so great a gift offers us new opportunities to live with eager anticipation what Jesus promises Theresa now and each of us in our futures.
As the church mourns with you, it sadly bids farewell to one of hers. It joins your struggle to let go and return Theresa to our Creator and Redeemer. The church also rejoices because of Theresa’s new vocation. Today in the communion of saints she advocates for you so that you may come to see more clearly your vocation: to live so that others will be more confident that though our bodies die, new life of our true and real survival awaits us.
- Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, #27.