EILEEN SCHWAB SEPTEMBER 29, 2018
One day in July, I think I really disappointed a hospice nurse from St. Vincent who had been taking care of my mother. She was all intent on telling me about all the grieving ministries they offer to families of the deceased. I told her that my mother was 95 years old, her health had declined dramatically over the last year and that she was more than ready for eternity. I also told her that I and all the members of my family were at peace with what was about to happen and that we probably wouldn’t be needing the services of St. Vincent Hospice. I don’t think that that was what the nurse really wanted to hear, but it was the truth.
Those last three or four years were really, really hard. She was deaf. She was hospitalized three times for pneumonia. She had lost the use of her legs and suffered from severe memory loss and confusion. On the other hand, they may have been a grace because in that time she grew closer to God and God grew closer to her. I’ll say more about that in a minute.
Right now I would like to thank Father Larry, Brother Gary and the people of Sacred Heart for welcoming us here this morning. After all, it’s been 63 years since my mother was registered member of Sacred Heart. Still, this is where she belongs this morning. She spent her first 32 years in this parish and never lived more than 6 blocks from where we’re at right now. She was baptized here. She made her first communion here and she was confirmed here. She went to grade school here and she went to high school here. This is where she received and learned the faith of the church and the Franciscan friars and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet had an enormous impact on the way she prayed and tried to live out the faith of the church. So, again, thanks for having us.
One of the things she learned here was the importance of prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There were not a lot of days when my mother missed saying the rosary. Over the years there were several times when she asked me about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and whether I knew of any books she could read on the subject. Now that she’s gone, I wish I had asked her to explain what it was about the Assumption of Mary that so got her attention. But, I didn’t and so I can only guess.
One thing I’m pretty sure of is that there was something in that doctrine that affirmed my mother in the virtue of hope. It was like a confirmation of her belief in the resurrection of Jesus and our call to one day share in that resurrection. That’s because one of us mere mortals, the Mother of God, has shared in Christ’s resurrection, body and soul, from the moment she left this world. Sometimes I think it was that hope that kept my mother going and maybe even got her through those last three or four years.
The church my mother grew up in wasn’t exactly same one she died in. A lot has happened in Catholic theology over the last half century. She would never have phrased it this way, but in a way the Assumption and her and her devotion to the Blessed Mother most likely reflected, on some level, a grasp of what today we would call the feminine side of God. I’m sure that here, as a student, in the 20s, 30s and 40s she got wind of that old idea that the best way to get to God is to go through the back door, that is, through Mary because she’s sort of like your mother, easy to talk to and carries a lot of clout with that Son of hers, who just might not be quite so easy to talk to.
Hopefully by now we’ve all outgrown that theology, but there really was something there. It reflected the feminine side of God. Imperfectly? Yes. Inadequately? Yes. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. For a couple of generations now some very high powered theologians have been trying to reclaim that feminine side of God and I think mother had a handle on what they’re trying to recover,
Another thing her devotion to Mary and her Assumption reflects about my mother was her strong, very strong belief, in the communion of saints, that bond between the brothers and sisters of Jesus that not even death can destroy. That’s why we pray for and with those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. And Mary? Well, as the Second Vatican Council stressed so clearly, she’s the first and most preeminent member of that great communion. Again, my mother might not have put it that way, but that was the real reason why she prayed so much to the Mother of God. It was all about the communion of saints and prayer for and with one another.
I want to go back to those last three or four years. Put simply, they were awful and they’ve sure shaken my belief in the idea longevity is a gift. My mother suffered. She suffered a lot. Again, she was deaf, chronically sick, confined to a wheel chair and suffered from severe memory loss and confusion.
On the positive side, I have no doubt that God used those years to draw her closer and closer to himself. For the last year or so there was almost no tension in her facial muscles, just a calm, deep and on-going sense of peace. A few weeks before she died, she grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go and kept telling me how much she loved me. That, of course, wasn’t the first time my mother said that, but that time it was different, really different. It was like she was saying, “I know this is the end and I don’t want you to ever doubt how much I loved you.” My sister Nancy tells me that she also tried to articulate sorrow and regret over things that didn’t go so well with certain people. That was all God’s grace, hard at work, just kind of pulling her into eternity.
I wonder what my mother would say today if she could read or hear the story about the woman who appears in the fifth chapter of Mark, the woman who had lost all of her life’s savings on one doctor after another, trying to find someone who could stop her from hemorrhaging. One day she stumbled into Jesus, touched his cloak and it was all gone. My guess is that even if she hadn’t been cured, that lady would have said that the suffering was all worth it. It got her to Jesus. There’s a lot, I suspect about my mother in that story in Mark 5.
My mother was a good human being. She was faithful. She was prayerful. She had faith, she had HOPE and she had love. She kept and handed on the faith of the church. She did OK. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God in peace.