Wednesday, January 09, 2019

A homily for my father

Mission San Miguel Arcangel - my parents' parish church.
When I visited him in the care home last October, my father asked me if I would take care of planning his funeral. Sure, I said, is there anything in particular you want?  No, not really; like your mother's.  At the Mission. (My parents' parish was one of the original California missions, San Miguel Arcangel). I went home, and a couple of weeks later my dad went home, where he could be with his wife and his beloved dogs. We didn't talk about it again. Now he has truly gone home, to be with my mother and all those who went before him. So last week I was faced with selecting readings and music, but not a homily. But this is what I would have said if I could have preached at his funeral Mass.

Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 27; 1 John 3:1-2, Matthew 11:25-30

My dad had bad knees, a trait he passed on to most of his offspring, much to our dismay. So when I sat down to consider readings for his funeral Mass, a line from a favorite section of Isaiah came to mind: Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. It's not a traditional reading for a funeral, but the imagery that surrounds that verse was so rich, so warm, it seemed the reading to send my dad home on.  And those weak knees being made firm — well, they made me laugh and so firmed up my soul.

The prophet promises much to a people in travail.  Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

Water here is precious.  It doesn't burst forth from the hillsides, or even run in the river beds, but winds its way unseen beneath our feet. The ground is always thirsty, our tongues and hands dry. So we pull water up from the depths, and dribble it out through irrigation systems. We hoard water from our showers and drag it bucket by bucket out to our gardens to keep a rose bush alive, or let an olive tree bear.

So to live here is to know better than most how to thirst, how to ration, how to live with the least you can. It becomes hard to imagine what to do if suddenly faced with an abundance of water.  I have lived back East for more than thirty years, in a place where my biggest worry about water is how much is in my basement during a deluging rainstorm, and yet...each and every time I cross over the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia, I am awestruck. All that water, flowing and flowing down to the confluence with the Delaware River and out into the sea.

To thirst is a gift. It's a potent reminder that we are visitors here, that we live ever on the road to Zion, with just enough to enable us keep us moving.  We long for firm knees, we thirst to see again those who have gone before us - wives and husbands and parents and siblings...and dogs. To thirst here, is to leave ourselves open to be awestruck by what awaits us at our end.

The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song. 
They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.

Light, too, is precious here. I walked outside the other night, it was too dark to see the ground I walked on. I walked by faith, the crunching of the gravel under my feet reassuring me I was on the right path. The glory and splendor of the numberless stars above took my breath away, yet each is known to God.

We are each walking in darkness,  occasionally catching a flash of something that lets us know we are on a right path, occasionally allowed to see a glimpse of one another as we truly are, beloved children of God, lights in the darkness of this world. We walk in worry, and doubt, uncertain if the next step will be on sure ground.

My father knew how precious water and light were. He kneaded flour and water into dough, feeding family and friends and people he didn't even know. He handed on light — the light of faith, the light of education, the light of a warped and wicked sense of humor — to his children and grandchildren, to people he knew and people he didn't.

Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.

My father was ransomed - as were we all. He has been met with joy and gladness, crowned with everlasting life, awash in water and light. May we all be graced to thirst, that we might be eternally awestruck at what has been done for us.

And dad, I know you were once worried that you'd be bored in heaven, resting was never high on your list. But surely heaven, of all places, is well set up for carpenters? I have faith you are well loved. May eternal rest be his, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.