Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Gray Afternoon, A Sweet Tradition and the World of Souls

This afternoon, between work and errands, I stopped by a funeral home a mile or so from the high school where I teach. A young colleague's father had died at age 86 after a long, difficult illness. Along with dozens of my colleagues, I went to pay my respects and to pray for her father's soul before his funeral Mass. As I headed out of the funeral home, I was struck by the idea that such a beautiful and solemn tradition is precious and might one day be a rarity. 

Because I grew up Catholic, a wake at a funeral home with an open casket is familiar to me. I have probably been to dozens of wakes. I learned as a little girl that death, and the bodies of the dead, are nothing to be afraid of. I understood then and now that our bodies house our souls, which live beyond our earthly lives.

I am accustomed to the ways of marking the time between death and burial, with the rosary in the departed's hands, the crucifix above the casket, the prayer cards nearby and the receiving line. These traditions comfort me and they bear great meaning, too.

I never met my colleague's dad, but during prep periods in the teacher's lounge, I listened to her stories about him and about her life at home with her parents, devout Catholics, who did not marry until middle age. Her mother is a former nun; her father was a World War II combat veteran who received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

I won't be there tonight when a priest leads the father's small family in prayer, or tomorrow at their parish, when his funeral Mass is celebrated. But to be present this afternoon, to pray for a soul of  a man meeting his destiny, is a sweet privilege. I saw something in the way his family stood by his casket and in the way their eyes looked. It made me know they are able to see beyond this loss. I am grateful to share their gift of faith. I also pray that my children and theirs will not lose this gift.

JESUS DEIGNED TO teach me this mystery.  He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers He has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy.  I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers.  And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus' garden.  He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God's glances when He looks down at His feet.  Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.

-St. Therese of Lisieux

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