Grandma’s last weeks were painful, for her and for those who loved her. She wasn’t my grandmother, so I can say that I was relieved when she died. A good person shouldn’t have to suffer as she did. Loving, kind and generous, Patty was universally loved.
She welcomed us into her life only a few, short years ago, including us in her warm embrace. Although she and the family were in California, we crossed the country to honor her and offer comfort and solace to the family of which we’d become a part.
All funerals are sad. The ones I remember most were also deeply satisfying, because of the shared love that bonded the mourners, even those who were meeting for the first time.
Grandma was 95, and she led a good life. She was Roman Catholic, so I steeled myself for the ritual that has always alienated me, despite my having been born into the faith. Only a year ago I wrote about the Catholic funeral mass of my brother-in-law. The church was overflowing with stricken friends and relatives who were unprepared for his sudden death. Yet the priest seemed to be playing his part by rote, spouting the same platitudes with the same indifference that were no more than a part of his job description.
The two masses were separated by a continent and an ocean and a spiritual distance equally vast. The priest in California moved among the mourners and spoke to them face-to-face, looking directly into their eyes. He was one of them. He welcomed the people he didn’t recognize, including those of other faiths. He respected them, entreating all to worship as they were accustomed. He was thoughtful and serious, but his sense of humor and his ease among strangers were evident too. He’d known Patty for years and worked with her for the Church. In his eulogy, delivered in an informal, almost chatty manner, he said that one of the three things he most appreciated about Patty was that she laughed at his jokes. “Nobody laughs at my jokes,” he said. “I have to tell my jokes in the bathroom to the priest I see in the mirror.” And he made all of us laugh, just as Patty had.
The priest opened my eyes to a fluid, adaptive Catholicism that can be truly catholic and responsive to the needs of different cultures. Women, including altar girls, took part in the service. A guitar accompanied the piano and the lyrics of the music scrolled on two large screens so that everyone could join in the singing.
Father Michael and Pope Francis are cut from the same cloth. I hope they and others like them will drag the Church into the 21st century.