Homily for Mom’s funeral Mass,

June 11, 2009, by John P. Martin, MM

 

I am somewhat surprised to be talking to you, as Joe knows Mom longer, and my 4 sisters more intimately; for, I have been away from home since age 15. (1)

 

It is certainly significant that today is the 43rd anniversary of my ordination; one of Mom’s grandest dreams for me, and a source of enormous satisfaction for her. (2) Some of you will remember the custom of the use of a manutergium, the cloth that was used to bind the new priest’s anointed hands and which was to be buried with one’s mother. According to that old tradition, Mom is taking my manutergium with her. (3)

 

The next day at the Maryknoll Sisters Chapel, I celebrated my first Mass on my youngest sister Ellen’s birthday, which is tomorrow. In my homily, I took off from the theme of my parents being immigrants from a foreign land and I about to go overseas to Mexico, as it were in imitation of them. They had given me the model and it was up to me now to continue to journey, like Ruth making myself at home in the homes of others. (4)

 

When Dad died in 1992, I came home from India and saw him in his last few days, transformed by his own dying process. I found myself saying spontaneously that Dad had been a GREAT MAN.

 

This was a transformative thought for me, since in my Irish Catholic upbringing, I had been led to believe that hardly anyone like my humble and simple father got to greatness, let alone holiness in this life. (5)

 

A Bengali word came to my mind: jivanmukta, which to the Hindu means liberated in life. When I used that word to talk to my friends in India about Dad’s funeral, they understood immediately, as they do honor living saints, people who have achieved total liberation from life’s limitations. We Catholics did not tend to say such exalted things about ordinary people: maybe, we might have said with one foot in heaven or some such phrase, meaning having attained salvation in life. But who believed it then? (6)

 

And so now I am prone to believe that there is a lot of greatness and sanctity all around us, maybe because we are paying more attention to our heart and spirit that intuitively show us true love, holiness, wholeness and life in the fullest. We are no longer fearful for the fate of good people. (7)

 

Mom wasn’t born into this state, that she absolutely enjoyed in her later years, as I am suggesting to you. She had a long road to get to 97 ¾ years of full love, life, holiness and wholeness, but SHE DID IT!! All who met her in recent years could testify to this. She had to GO THROUGH A LOT to get here. (8)

 

About 15 years ago, I overheard Mom talk about her childhood, opening a rare window for me into her life. She spoke of how her father was kidnapped one night by the infamous Black and Tans militia about 1921, at the time of the Troubles when the Irish were struggling for independence from England. Mom was all of 10 years old. She and her mother spent one horrible night in prayerful vigil, and were rewarded with his return home the next morning. But … Mom made the comment that he was never the same again! This reverberated in my heart as something truly significant and led me to feel great empathy for her, and for so many others who have been victimized by terror at a tender age. In my words, she carried from the age of 10 a great disappointment all her life, surely reinforced by many later experiences. I can only rely on my intuition to reveal to me the enormity of the burdens that she carried inside her, but not any image or story from her mouth. (9)

 

I could never know what went on inside Mom’s heart all those years, so far away as I was all the time, both physically and psychologically, (10) but I do know this that she somehow managed to get purified and transformed and re-created. It is just now by my tears that I have become aware of the tremendous depth of this loving life that she has left us children as an inheritance and to many others as testimony of graceful living.

 

I once asked Mom if she prayed a lot, and she replied, “Oh yes I do, all the time.” A few days before her death, Mary moved close to Mom’s face and asked what she had been mumbling. Mom’s reply was: “I was talking to God, not to you”. When I arrived at the hospital last Saturday evening, she said, “Oh it’s you Johnny. Thank you Jesus.” Mom ended her life with a simple and constant preference for intimate union with her God and our conversations with her were the interruptions.

 

I may be pardoned, I presume, if I don’t speak so much about the hand of God in all of this, but to me it is as though God was present in her smile, her serenity, her total acceptance of everyone and everything, her marvelous sense of humor, her equanimity, her hospitality, her growth, her blossoming into eternal life right in front of our eyes while still with us. (11)

 

She indeed gave up her life for her family (12) and we got her fuller life back to enjoy and to emulate, in the end.

 

Mom, it is so hard to say goodbye to you, since I sense that I am just beginning to get to know you and to experience the depth of your self-sacrificing love for me. I know that you loved me and I love you. (13) Only you and I know what this means. But one thing I do know is that we will be having a very new and delightful relationship far beyond anything that I could ever imagine. It may take me a while to catch up with you, but I know that you will be patient with me, as I am only going on 70. I would write you a letter from time to time, but you won’t be relying on words or paper anymore to keep in touch with us. (14) Be patient with us all and do help us to get used to living with you inside our hearts so as to share your riches with those people who are a part of our lives. May the pain of longing to be with you in this new relationship become the furnace for us all to get purified and transformed and recreated in the image of your Beloved Jesus. (15)

And do give Dad a great big hug and kiss for us all!

 

 

Notes:

(1)           Sob! Sob! Cry! Cry! This is one of the major themes of my life: the great ambivalence I experienced between the joy of becoming so totally a missionary with the Maryknoll Family and the separation from my family.

(2)           A major theme of my relationship with Mom full of ambivalence: she was so intimately bound up with my calling to the missionary priesthood and yet how I had to accept this as my own calling, and not just to please her.

(3)           Mom had kept this cloth neatly folded in a plastic bag with her very clear penmanship stating “Johnny’s manutergium”.

(4)           The first reading of the Liturgy was from the book of Ruth 1. I have seen myself making friends with a variety of families in the countries where I have been privileged to live.

(5)           The religious environment of half a century ago was filled with loads of moralism and legalism: make sure you obey all these rules; God help you if you don’t; you should feel guilty for that!; you’ve got to confess that; being separated from God was implied as our “normal” state of life.

(6)           This comparison reveals a major gift of my cross-cultural and inter-religious way of living as a missionary: the capacity to do some cross-cultural sharing and enrichment by my personal reflections, hoping to bring us all together as one human family even with our marked differences.

(7)           Implicitly I am saying that we have generally, it seems to me, gotten away from the moralism and legalism above, in favor of looking within our hearts for the criteria for looking on ourselves, others and our relationship with God. Maybe we are asking our Church to move closer to where we are, instead of demanding that we get back into line again!

(8)           To “go through” something in life is a favorite phrase of mine, as well as a major path in my spiritual life. It came to me as a method of accepting fully all that life brings to us, instead of avoiding the tough parts by whatever ingenious way we all are so capable of inventing.

(9)           How my heart bleeds for so many people, especially youngsters, who are exposed to so much violence and are forever scarred by their perpetrators! Having heard a few such stories in confession over the years, I am mortified at the persistence of those early wounds. How impotent I feel about it!

(10)                   There was no way that I could separated from the family just physically but not psychologically, so integrated are we in all our human dimensions.

(11)                   This is evidence, I believe, of a remarkable shift in our Christian spirituality, whereby we have left aside the traditional separation mode of God-up-there-far-away and little-me-struggling-to-get-to-heaven-down-here. In a new synthesis, we are now invited to see the eternal presence of God WITHIN all of creation, all the time, energizing us and nudging us forward.

(12)                   This refers to the Gospel of St. John 15, 9-17, read at the Mass, especially to “there is no greater love then this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.

(13)                   This phrase came to me spontaneously to say to Mom. It is loaded beyond anything that I can share with you at this time.

(14)                   This honors Mom’s prolific letter writing skills well up into her 90’s, not to forget her beautiful penmanship.

(15)                   “Longing for one’s Beloved” is a major theme in the history of spirituality, as one pines for the Beloved who is on his/her way to a loving encounter, or as one suffers the absence of a Beloved, be it because of distance, death, an ailing relationship or whatever. It is seen in such erotic literature as the Song of Songs in our Bible! One of my favorites is the 13th century Muslim Persian poet Jalaladin Rumi, considered by some experts as the best religious poet in history, who sees or feels this pining and pain in every detail of life. True love is bound up with this pining and the pain of separation, inevitably.

 

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