13th Sunday 2005 (mom’s 90th birthday
Now is the hour when we must say good-bye
Soon you’ll be sailing far across the sea
When you return, o please remember me
When you return, you’ll find me waiting here.
I’m sure most of you in the assembly would have no idea why I begin this morning’s homily singing “now is the hour”. But I’m sure my family who has gathered to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday this weekend knows why. My mother who is still quite a character at 90 asked if I would deliver the homily that I would use for her funeral liturgy because she doesn’t want to miss hearing it when the day comes. (Although given the fact that she repaved her driveway by herself just last year, has renewed her driver’s license for the next 10, still dances and does tai chi, there may be another family gathering as Mom reaches 100)
Of course I can’t pretend to know what I would say for a homily on that day, whenever it comes, but I know it will begin with the song “Now is the Hour”. (My mom and Dad would sing that as a duet and I can still hear their voices in close harmony) In fact my mom and dad were always singing love duets “We could make believe”, Why do I love you”. “So in Love”, “People will say we’re in love”.So when I do get to write that funeral homily it will I am sure weave together the love songs that we all heard mom and dad sing together.
But what is there in God’s word for all of us today, not just my mother in celebration of her life but for all of us who gather for this Eucharist. For no one life is lived separate from the rest of humanity. The themes that play in one person’s life strike chords with each of us, some harmony, maybe some dissonance. If I may, I would like to use my mother’s life as a way of learning something about ourselves. (Ask me or any of my brothers how and where we learned the times table or the latin altar boy responses)
Listening to today’s scriptures, I am struck by how the themes within them resonate with my mother’s life. In the reading from the book of Kings, the Shunemite woman opens her home and her hospitality to the prophet Elisha. She not only invites him to dinner but provides a place and a space for him. I don’t know what the Hebrew is for “Mi casa es tu casa” but her hospitality is complete. I couldn’t help thinking about my mother’s hospitality in the light of the Shunemite woman. There is nothing more that my mother loves than entertaining, whether at the table for a meal with guests of all kinds, or entertaining us all with the “Charleston”, in full flapper regalia. My mother is renowned for her taking over in the kitchen wherever she is visiting. As I told her for this visit that there was no need to pack her suitcase with food from Floral Park, and of course she said she wouldn’t. When I picked up the suitcase, it weighed a ton and I knew she had brought the store with her. From applesauce to muffin tins it was all there. My mother, like the Shunemite woman, simply loves to serve and to wait on others.
And like the Shunemite woman, she would say that she has received her reward. For mom, it was not one son but 5 sons and their wives, partners and long-time companions, 12 grandchildren and their wives and partners, 4 great grandchildren and one on the way. And of course a husband who adored her (even if she tells me that my father told her once when she said I adore you. He said, You only adore God, even though he obviously adored her)
Perhaps Dad was onto something though. He echoes what we hear in the Gospel. There is a kind of irony in that today’s gospel says “whoever loves mother or father more than me, is not worthy of me” Whoever loves son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me” and here I am honoring my mother’s life. Is the wisdom of Jesus here to let us know that genuine love for another, no matter what the family ties, is in fact only a miniscule part of the love that binds us together in the body of Christ and in the human family. There have been many lessons in love that her family has learned from Dorothy Roggy VerEecke. The most important, I think, was when my Dad was sharing in the cross of Christ for five years in a nursing home, a mere shadow of his self. Mom would visit, feed, sing, talk, caress, anoint his body with the oil of her love. There was no reward, no return for loving this way, except the reward of simply loving.
I knew all along that it would be an impossible dream to give a funeral homily when Mom is so much alive. But even her request is really very theological. It echoes in fact what St. Paul says in today’s second reading and that we hear on Easter night and at many funeral liturgies. Are you not aware that we who are baptized in Christ have are baptized into his death? We all are in fact already “Dead”. We have already gone into the grave and been raised with Christ. Even now, Now is the hour. For those who believe in Christ’s death and resurrection and who share in it even now have died and are living in newness of life.
Mom as a birthday gift for ninety years of life and love, there is a song and a dance that speaks so eloquently of two people in love as you and Dad were and are. Even more it speaks eloquently of the God who is love and who enters into covenant love with us. And that is why it is called the “Covenant Hymn”
(Paul sings, Jamie and Niki dance)