I’ve attended three funerals in five days.
One was a priest of 57 years. He was challenging but rewarding. You had to slog through a slough of opinions, but the trek would often lead to deep pools of vision and insight.
I visited him the day he learned of his unrequested retirement. He was angry and frustrated, unable to see, or admit, the reasons for the decision. But what I saw beneath the fury a still fiery passion for his vocation. Despite a litany of degrees, titles, and citations, his deepest desire was to be a parish priest.
Another was a woman, my age, who died after a long journey with cancer. I don’t say battle because she never seemed to be at war. She never even mentioned it unless asked and then her response was always honest, but brief. She refused to let her affliction define or confine her. She lived until the day she died.
It’s hard to picture her without her husband by her side. They were both smart and accomplished, but the other always came first. It wasn’t clingy – just the sense that they chose each other every day. That elected love embraced a family that was both their personal joy and their gift to the world.
The third was a woman religious who died just after her 90th birthday. She had dementia, but in a community of common care, it loses some of its fear and sadness.
During her life, she was a teacher, a missionary, a counselor, congregational president, administrator, pastoral minister, and hospital volunteer. As her cousin ad-libbed at the intercessions, “My Lord, is there anything this woman didn’t do?”
In fact there was little she couldn’t do, but everything she did, each new road she took, she did so at the request of her community. She lived with her sisters for 70 years. When they remember her, they don’t talk about her roles, but her wisdom, her humor, and her concern.
At each funeral, we prayed for admission to eternal life. Perhaps those prayers had already been answered.
My bet is that each of these, one in his Priesthood, one in her marriage, and one in the bonds of community, had many moments when they were immersed in the waters of eternal life. That’s what refreshed, nourished and impassioned them.
I have no idea what awaits beyond the threshold of death, but I don’t think any of these three were surprised. They’d visited before.