Yesterday my family and I attended and sang at a funeral Mass for an elderly parishioner at our little mission parish. This gentleman was the father of one of Thad's fellow tenors, and the father-in-law of our choir director. As she played her violin at the funeral, I thought about how expressively emotional a violin can be: lovely, haunting, both sad and hopeful. It was a beautiful funeral.
This family, this fellow tenor of Thad's, has buried a total of four family members in two years. That is a very hard thing for any family to do. And yet our friends have done so with grace, with love, and with careful prayer and attention, setting an example that any of us may someday have to follow.
I will miss seeing this older gentleman at Mass; as Father said yesterday, he was at Mass most Sundays when his health permitted it, and was always sorry to miss Mass when he couldn't be with us. He was the sort of older gentleman who is comfortable giving compliments, and a regular exchange with me would be for him to ask before Mass, "Are you in good voice today?" and then, no matter what I said or how I sounded, to tell me after Mass, "You were in good voice today." He was, in many ways, a dear sort of person.
Our pastor gave a homily that was very encouraging about this gentleman's whereabouts now, and though I know that some people prefer fire and brimstone at funerals, there is something moving about being reminded that the Church takes a rather hopeful view at the funerals of lifelong Catholics who prayed a lot and went to Confession and Mass and raised their families Catholic and received the anointing of the sick at appropriate times and were generally close to God and the Church. I have, of course, remembered him in my daily prayers for the poor souls, but to be honest I can't help but imagine his usual twinkling expression, now illuminated by joy, and to picture him passing my poor prayers on to souls who really need them. That won't stop me from praying, but it's a comforting thought.
Our little parish generally serves a luncheon after funerals, and as we gathered for that I thought about how much this gentleman had enjoyed such gatherings--he was a rather enthusiastic eater, and our parish is very good at feeding people on regular occasions. It was strange not to see his wheelchair at one of the tables yesterday, or to hear him complimenting the side dish casseroles or asking for the salt. At the heavenly banquet where I hope and trust he is or soon will be there is joy and fellowship too, and perhaps the parish luncheons are a pale reflection of that.
We left during a break in the pouring rain--it was rainy, cold, and miserable yesterday. But this gentleman would have reminded me, again with that twinkle, that there are ten inches of snow in his hometown in Pennsylvania right now, and I would have had to admit that our Texas winters are nothing much to worry about. People like that are really good for setting us complainers straight.
If there is someone like that at your parish, some elderly person who you see every Sunday and say hello to and are just a little bit tempted to take just a little bit for granted, say "Hello!" to him or to her this week for me. The door between our world and the next is always swinging open for them at their stage of life, and the last journey is not always heralded by visible illness or hospitalization or crises. The soul can slip away between breaths, between heartbeats, and you can be left with the odd realization that the last thing you said on your way out the church door was a cheery, "See you next Sunday!" and a quick exchange about how the snow in Texas which melts in an afternoon is the best kind of snow--as compared to those ten inches on the ground back home...