Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Homily for Sister Brigid

“For I know that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

          Whenever someone we love dies, especially a parent, all sorts of images and memories flood into one’s consciousness: for me at least, happy memories of past Christmases, shared vacations, various family celebrations, and the graced moments of support, encouragement, and love. Then there are the sad memories, of the various arguments and misunderstandings, the inevitable trials of family life, the examples of human weakness. At a time such as this, there is the temptation is to get stuck in the swirl and turbulence of memory and all the while miss the forest through the trees, to not see the overriding reality that was present in the loved one’s life.

          I never asked my mother what she wanted me to preach about on her passing, but I feel really confident in knowing what she wouldn’t want me to dwell on: her. Instead, she’d want me to focus on what gave her life meaning amidst any sort of confusion, hope in the face of very real sadness, and joy that could withstand any of life’s challenges. For her, this was embodied in the person of Jesus, and it was the love that she experienced in that relationship that allowed her to believe in the enduring worth of the Gospel and its impact on our lives.

          I’d like to respect my mom’s wishes and not make this a eulogy. Fair enough. However, I hope she’ll forgive me if I use several concrete images from her life to illuminate the theme that we celebrate this morning: renewal and our faith in the resurrection. Because faith in this is more than simply a “head” experience of believing that Jesus rose. Rather, I believe we are able to feel that connection, to believe in renewal and resurrection because we witness its reality blossoming forth oh so ever close in our daily lives.

          The first image of renewal I’d like to use is my parents’ house in Salem. As I mentioned last night, my mother had been an interior decorator and it was her dream to restore an old house and bring it to renewal, to new life. For four years my parents did precisely that. My mom was the animating force behind the project and the end result was something quite lovely and beautiful. However, I think something deeper was going on in the work. I think my mom was giving witness to the renewal that had happened in her own life, the renewal that the Lord had engineered. See, my mom’s early life wasn’t easy -- it involved wrestling with some very serious issues, and the house was a sign of her faith that what was broken could be renewed, healed, and that the process happened from inside out, with loving care.

          Which is why she never could give up on the human possibility to change. She simply believed that was how God saw it: God never gives up on us. As the Gospel for today says, “this is the will of the one who sent me: that I should not lose anything that was was given to me.”  This expressed itself in the second image of resurrection I’d offer: of a young, learning disabled teenager that my parents basically adopted after my mother discovered him one morning at daily mass. His name was Vernon and he was a runaway. She brought him home that day, fed him, heard his story (one filled with abuse and mistreatment) and then spoke with my father about offering him a place to stay. As it turned out, they became his legal guardians and he stayed with them for five years. In that time he was able to get his GED and become able to live independently. While both my parents were involved in Vern’s transformation, it was particularly my mom’s faith in our ability to change and her maternal love that was crucial in making that happen for Vern. More importantly, it was a sign of how God brings about resurrection and renewal throughout the course of our lives: through human love and compassion.

          The last image of resurrection is more paradoxical, perhaps even eschatological. It is my mom’s experience of Alzheimer’s. During the five years that my mom struggled with this disease, she was gradually stripped of everything -- most strikingly her ability to communicate naturally. She handled that with uncommon grace and courage, so that by the end, she became so poor that I believe she was able to receive the fullness of the Kingdom at her death. The most powerful aspect of Christian dying is realizing that Jesus is completely intimate to it. Jesus died... and was raised... and because of that he understands all of what we go through in our human journey. What will it feel like for each of us when, upon our death, we look into the eyes of Jesus and know that we are completely known... and loved... and that he has been with us in all our moments of suffering? It’s in light of that, that the words from this morning’s first reading are so meaningful: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines... on this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples... he will destroy death forever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.”

          Brigid has passed into eternal life. And if I could imagine her saying anything to us this day it would be that every step of the way was worth it. May your memory be eternal dearest mother.

Ombra Does It Again: Seven Puppies

By Brother Gregory

Ombra was beginning to get really big, and time was getting very close to birthing her puppies. This would be Ombra’s second litter. She was bred to Kahn, and the two were a good match; Ombra took a liking to Kahn, and they got ties during the breeding. Her x-ray showed a possible seven puppies, but we were not quite sure about that seventh puppy. Going to bed that Saturday, I knew this was probably going to be a sleepless night, but off the lights went in my cell with Ombra and Lena, my other dog. Sure enough, Ombra would go in and out of her crate during the night, periodically scratching the crate, doing her nesting. Auntie Lena, as I called her, would come over to my bed to let me know what was going on, looking with her wet nose for my face or a foot or hand sticking out from the blankets. OK, Lena, I got the message! On the bedroom light would go, then off again, and this went on for most of the night. But at 2:30 Sunday morning I’d had enough. I got dressed and brought Ombra over to her whelping room in the puppy kennel. If I had to lose sleep, so was someone else, so I knocked on Br Luke’s door, and he went off to the kennel office, where there is a fluffy couch to sleep on. For me, it was a truly monastic experience, with a spiritual book and with Ombra doing nothing but just walking around the room and jumping into the whelping pen. At 10 Sunday morning, we examined Ombra and decided that she was not going to have the puppies any time soon, so it was suggested that I get some sleep and just leave her alone. At 12 noon, Br Marc knocked on my cell door and told me to get up and go help Br Luke—he had discovered that while no one was there, Ombra had had three puppies and was nursing. Dazed and amazed, I jumped out of bed, dressed, and hurried over to the kennel, hoping that Ombra and the puppies were OK. All was fine: Br Luke and Sr Pat Cassidy, a nurse, were tending to Ombra’s needs, and she was licking the three puppies she had birthed all alone: amazing! During the afternoon, Ombra had three more puppies, all big ones. So now we had six puppies—but what about the seventh? Nothing was happening. The x-rays had not been clear about a seventh puppy, so at 5 that afternoon we decided to leave Ombra and check on her later. She was getting tired, and she needed to rest. Well…Br Luke went over to the kennel around 9 that evening, and sure enough, Ombra had had the seventh puppy. There she was, appearing to be very happy with her litter, cleaning and licking her seven babies. Before going to bed that Sunday night, I wrote on the community board, “Ombra, six puppies.” When I awoke that Monday morning and passed by the community board, the word “six” had been changed to “seven.” Later that morning, I visited the new mother, and there was Ombra looking very much in control and very happy with her new babies, just enjoying motherhood. What a trouper!