Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Practice Homily for my Grandmother’s Funeral (“Momma Carol”)

I have many cherished memories of my childhood. One of those is of dad, with the constant support of mom, teaching my brothers and me how to pray. He would get home late at night from work and he would round us all up on one bed and make us take three deep breaths. We were always wound up and never went to bed when mom wanted us to. Then he would take a prayer card out of his shirt pocket and teach us the prayer line by line. Soon we developed a sort of regimen of prayer that I still pray to this day. Before we prayed any of the formal prayers that he taught us though, we always prayed for our family. We called dad's parents "Grandmommy and Pepaw" and, of course, as you all know, mom's parents were always "Momma Carol and Grandpa Frank." We would pray that God would bless "Grandmommy and Pepaw and all their families" and "Momma Carol and Grandpa Frank and all their families". I prayed that all through my childhood and I am grateful to be able to pray with all of you today this same prayer, but in a special way. Today we pray that God will bless all of our families, but especially our dear "Momma Carol."

The psalm that I read is a beautiful one, isn't it? It's one of my favorites: "I lift my eyes up to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Ps 121). I imagine, when I read that psalm, a man in a dark valley at night time, laid low by suffering and hardship. When it seems that all is lost he spends the last bit of energy he has on lifting his head a little bit. His eyes squint and peer in the distance toward the tops of the hills surrounding the valley. He hopes to see someone come over the hill, down into his valley, to save him. Where does his help come from? But then he sees not a person, but the sun, casting its first rays over the hills. "Of course," he thinks to himself, "the sun reminds me again, my help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." He is reassured of the Lord's constant presence and help and is given the hope to persevere.

Momma Carol's help was always near to us too, wasn't it? I remember staying home sick from school and mom would drop me off at her house. I used to love to sit by her on the couch and watch Price is Right! And it seemed like even buttered toast tasted better when she made it! And who can forget those wonderful Thanksgiving dinners when she was still active; that constant stream of pumpkin pies. She helped us all in little ways like these, to be loved and appreciated and cared for. I remember her amazing sense of humor and biting wit but also the way that she gave us her motherly and grandmotherly care with such dignity and refinement.

Even when her M.S. made her weaker and weaker over many, many years, she always retained her dignity and refinement. For all the years she helped us, you all helped her in many various ways in return. Grandpa Frank was her constant companion and caregiver. And so many of you also took care of her with dedication and devotion, by tidying the house, fixing her hair, preparing meals, running errands, or by simply offering a silent prayer from a distance. You all should be proud of the way in which you returned the love that Momma Carol so generously gave you. When she was weak and looked up for help, you were the rays of the sun, sent by the Son of God, to be His Help to her. Certainly we all prayed that God would heal her, that one of the many remedies she tried would be successful. But God's help for her did not come in the form of a cure, God's Help was you.

Let us not underestimate the help that God gives us through the people that He brings into our lives. And let us make a conscious effort to be open to Him, so we can be always available to Him, to be used by Him to help someone else. Caring for Momma Carol was an instinct, a no-brainer, out of her love for you and your love for her, you just did it. But I don't think she would want that to stop, now that she has died.

One of the hidden blessings of this funeral for me has been that I have been able to meet, again, long-lost aunts, uncles, and cousins that I haven't seen since I was a little kid. Now that we are all together, how might we continue the love and care that we showed Momma Carol? How might we continue to extend the help of God, in the Name of the Lord?

I know that some of you helped her so often that your very lives were formed by the routine you kept: checking medicine at certain times, making meals at certain times, calling on the phone at certain times. And it can be painful and jarring for a day to all of a sudden come along in which these routines come to a screeching halt. "What am I going to do with myself now?" you might be thinking. "I should be checking on her right now. I should be visiting her right now." These loving and helpful gestures don't have to stop today. Look around you, look at how much of our family is here today. Who here could use a helpful reminder, help with cooking, an occasional phone call, or a visit? I think we call could. I think Momma Carol would want us to help each other in these ways.

But this is sort of daunting isn't it? I don't pretend this is easy. Helping Momma Carol wasn't easy. I know there were many hard days. And helping each other isn't easy, especially if there are disappointments or hurts in our pasts. But I find consolation in an old quote from St. Augustine, one of the early Church Fathers of Catholicism. He said, "The God who made you without you will not save you without you." Meaning, that we had nothing to do with our creation, we didn't choose our parents or our siblings or the situations in which we would be raised. God made us out of his own freedom and overflowing love. But when it comes to saving us, to introducing Himself into our lives, to giving us grace, to using us to help his sons and daughters, He will not force Himself upon us – we must accept Him and cooperate with Him. My point is that you could have never helped Momma Carol the way you did had you not believed in prayer and allowed God to use you and empower you with his grace. It's not all up to us and our skills and abilities. We can help each other, even if there are difficulties, even if we think we are ill-equipped to do so, if we open ourselves to God and let Him help us, with us, through us.

In a few minutes, after we have all gotten a chance to say our goodbyes, several of the grandsons and I will help to carry her to her final place of rest and peace. This little procession is an ancient symbol of helping our deceased loved ones on the journey to Christ. We will represent all of you as we help her in this special way. Let us continue to help her and each other with our prayers and good deeds. And at any time we are ever weakened, let us confidently lift our eyes up to the hills. Where does our help come from? Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

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