The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family (Lee Iacocca, American Executive, 1924-2019).
There is nothing like major life events to put faith, family and friendship to the test. Within a span of five days recently, I was witness to the power and the beauty of all three. There were many tears shed at different moments, but they were always for love.
The Pearl of Great Value
The wedding we attended on a sunny but cold Friday afternoon was the culmination of mildly impatient years, which the bride, Dianne, had spent wondering if she would ever meet “a good man” – praying that she would. Walking down the aisle toward the altar and her husband-to-be, Gavin, her tears shone on her cheeks. She was visible proof of unwavering faith and trust in God’s providence.
As beautiful as weddings can be, I personally find there is too much sentimentalism on display, which tends to overshadow the essence of the marriage, which the couple are beginning. So it was with gratitude that I listened to the priest’s homily about sacrifice in marriage. He likened the love the couple had for each other to the pearl of great value, which Jesus talked about in a parable:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Mt. 13:45-46 ). NRSVCE)
He told them their love for each other was like that pearl and they must sacrifice everything for that love. It was as Christ did for His bride, the Church. They were each other’s way to heaven, and the way would be paved with love and sacrifice.
“Someone Else, Not Me”
Sacrifice is an unfashionable word, whether in marriage or life in general. It is one of those words one hardly hears mentioned now, except perhaps in a negative way and then many times in disbelief or revulsion. Many people tend to think, “That happens to other people, not me.” It did not use to be the case, though.
Giving of oneself was a concept, which went hand in hand with family life and marriage, love of God and country, service and compassion. In truth, it should still be the case. Many things have changed and continue to do so over the years, such as fashion and technology, but there are some things, which do not because they are so fundamental and intrinsic to basic human relationships and life. Sacrifice is one of those essential things, which is universal and eternal when it is done for love.
All The Days of My Life
The vows traditionally exchanged by the bride and groom indicate the depth and breadth of the marriage they are entering into.
“I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
Such were the words we heard from Dianne and Gavin, whose wedding we attended on a Friday afternoon. Days before that, however, Jorge, a man who was once an excellent shoemaker in Ecuador, died at home, surrounded by his children and his wife of 55 years. He and his wife Lucy had lived a life true to the very same vows they made to each other when they too stood before the altar all those years ago.
All the stories Lucy and his children shared about Jorge made them smile in remembrance: how much he loved to dance and would pull his wife to the dance floor at parties even as much younger guests just stood around watching other people; how he teased Lucy often and made her laugh a lot; how he always told his grandchildren it was important to study and be good students. His only daughter said, almost wonderingly, how much their sorrow at his passing was mixed in with joy. He had lived a very good life, and to the very end he loved and was loved.
To the End and a New Beginning
The family related several times how Jorge, even as he grew weaker and closer to death, was still focused on his better half: “Take care of Lucy.” To the end of his earthly days, Jorge did not forget his wife and wanted to entrust her to those closest to him.
He was assured by his two sons, daughter and daughter-in-law that Lucy would be cared for. The family was with him as he drew his last breath, encouraged by their prayers and loving words, fortified by their strong faith. There were many tears for this once-strong husband, father and grandfather, but the grief they felt was tempered by the joy of knowing that Jorge was now at peace and suffered no more.
A Time for Everything
“At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist.”(The Liturgy, Order of Christian Funerals, Archdiocese of Toronto)
In critical times of our lives, it is within our families that we find the strength and support we need in order to pull through. Such is the case in the greater Christian family, which is the Church, and there is no better source of strength and support, which can be found in the world than in the Eucharist and the Mass.
I have to confess: I was pretty distracted at the funeral Mass. With me were my four children, the oldest being nine and the youngest of whom is two and could not sit still that morning. My 18-year old daughter was also with us and helped to keep an eye on my restless five-year-old son. For most of the Mass, I was standing right outside the doors leading to the main part of the church, trying my best to listen to what was being read and said. Although it was not the best arrangement, I took heart in the knowledge that as imperfect as my attention and focus were during the Mass, our Lord would take what I could give and receive it, united with everyone else’s prayers for Jorge’s soul and the family he left behind. In that moment, I was so grateful for the communion of the saints and thanked God for the gift and blessing that it is.
Together as One
We are one family in the Church – God’s family. In the holy sacrifice of the Mass, we praise and adore God, ask for His forgiveness, give thanks, and ask for His blessings. We do this as one community, united in faith and hope, strengthened by the love of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
During the funeral Mass for Jorge, the wedding Mass for Dianne and Gavin, and every single Mass for that matter – it was and is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which the priest offers up. We hear in the first Eucharistic Prayer:
“Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty, from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.
Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.”
It is moving to listen to this remembrance of those who and what came before us, and still we are all part of the same family, with God as our Father.
Whatever It May Be
I am so grateful for my faith, as fragile as it sometimes is. I know I cannot do anything alone. How can I? The slightest of difficulties is enough to produce complaint after complaint. I am tired. I am so busy. I do not have the answers to so many questions – what am I to do? I read the news and my thoughts ping-pong between alarm and dismay, especially when I feel the sense of helplessness creeping up my spine.
It would be depressing if I were alone, but I am not. Together with those who have gone before us marked with a sign of faith, whether they already be in heaven or in purgatory being purified, we who belong to Christ on earth are all united in His body, the Church. We pray for each other and draw strength from one another. God has called us each by name. He knows each of us well, better than anyone else. In marriage and family, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in life and death, we must hold fast to our faith, always striving for love.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).