Received a text this morning about the passing of a good friend in my former parish. She was the deacon’s wife … always very kind and pleasant and generous … not to even mention that she made the best dang chile rellenos in the state! … along with just about anything else that graced the palates of her charges. Few failed to make a beeline to her cooking at parish functions, and many were the expressions of lamentation and woe when people recalled the closing of their restaurant years before.
She and the deacon lived just across the street from the church, so they were my “go to” sources for info for the new pastor when I first arrived in 2009. Now … know that thoughts and prayers follow you to Our Lord, Addie; rest in peace, girl.
It seems odd to the non-believer—especially those whose only hope is this world—but we Christians in a way rejoice when a good person passes, for we believe the faithful will be enfolded in the blissful arms of God. St. Paul states our hope succinctly: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me…I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23) Yet … we still miss them. A lot. Their goodness made our own lives all the brighter.
When a friend passes away, we who are older cannot help but muse upon others we’ve lost over time. For myself: Dad of cancer, grandparents gone for several decades, cousin at 18 in a highway accident, and many friends from high school and college and after. The older we get, the longer the list becomes until, if we live long enough, we outlive almost everyone else we’ve known in the past.
Here at IHM we average about twenty-five funerals each year (many churches in central New Mexico may have several hundred; Our Lady of Belen south of Albuquerque where I first served averaged about 3-5 per week), so patterns become evident. There ARE those cornerstone patriarchs/matriarchs whose large families come in full force with very large attendance no matter what the deceased’s age. More typical, however, is that the older the person, the fewer attendees—not because the person was not loved and cherished in life, but simply because they’ve outlived all of their friends, and many of their relatives (if they had very many) have simply lost close touch.
Conversely, funerals of young persons of high school age will typically fill churches as the community mourns deeply the tragedy of a young life lost so prematurely … each such life an unfinished symphony in itself. In that vein, we pray for that young lad killed in Española the other day, and for his family. Such a senseless waste of the beauty of a life … a life which had barely stretched its wings.
So, as we often wonder as we get older: how will WE be remembered? In fact, WILL we be remembered? Well … how do we WANT to be remembered? This is (yet another) case in which we see the absolute futility of pursuing wealth for its own sake, not knowing who will have it or what they will do with it when we are gone. When you’ve seen as many families torn apart by fighting over the scraps of estates as I have, you’d care little for the mere accumulation of riches.
Even Jesus encountered such grasping behavior: “One of the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.’ But he said to him …‘Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” (Luke 12:13-15) In one of His most famous sayings, Jesus warns of the dangers of wealth with a bit of rabbinic hyperbole: “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 19:24) St. Paul expands on how Jesus’ teaching is to be utilized: “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
So, don’t think that wealth alone will endear you to those you leave behind, no matter how much you enrich them. I’ve seen many a family torn apart by (often ungrateful) kids warring over scraps of forebears’ estates. Witnessing these always reinforces St. Paul’s statement: “…those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils…” (1 Timothy 6:9-10)
No, those who are most greatly missed, remembered longest, and mourned with most affection are always those who were kindest and most generous—not so much with money, but with their kindness and love—age notwithstanding. This is how I remember Roger, Lou, Margaret … Sandy, Bill, Betty … Dad, Mamaw and Papa … our beloved little Clare-bear. And this is how—and why—I will remember Addie.