There have been six funerals in the parish this week which is an unusually high number. Some of the deaths had been expected as families gathered round their loved ones in the hospital, the hospice and at home reassuring and comforting their dying relative.
One of the deaths was sudden and this brings its own form of grief and shock. So much of the week has been spent in and around wake houses. I’ve mentioned before how the wakes are a tremendously human and healing experience. These occasions and events, although they are touched and coloured by sadness, allow family and friends to celebrate the life of their loved one as they share and reflect on memories through the years. These two or three days enable a family and a community to mourn and learn to cope with the experience of death. The rawness of emotions, the pain of separation and grief are brought before the care, compassion and love expressed by family and neighbours.
Wakes are always occasions when you meet people and have an opportunity to listen as men, women and children share stories trying to comprehend and make sense of what has happened to their deceased family member. If I’m trying to prepare a funeral sermon I’ll always ask the family to share their memories.
I try to put into words some elements of the person’s life to highlight the uniqueness and the preciousness of the individual who has died. We all live in and through a complex and varied set of relationships and our lives are shaped and determined by the people we share each day with. When someone dies a part of the fabric of our lives is torn away from us and we struggle to come to terms with the absence of someone who helped to anchor us in the world. In this unfamiliar and strange landscape we struggle with our grief. Yet as we talk to one another, share stories and laughs we begin the difficult journey of learning to mourn.
During the week I was talking to an older woman at one of the wakes and she recounted a story hoping I might be able to shed some light on its significance. In a serious manner she told me how at night she left the window of her room open because she was claustrophobic. A few minutes later a beautiful white and speckled butterfly floated into the room and gracefully landed on top of a statue of Padre Pio.
Being winter the woman wondered where the beautiful butterfly could have appeared from. Touched by the serenity on the scene and the woman’s sincerity as she described her experience in mystical detail I asked what happened next. Unfortunately the end of the story was at odds with what went before. The woman continued: “Well after it landed on Padre Pio I killed the thing because I’m scared of bugs and insects”. After the unexpected conclusion I was wasn’t able to ask if she noticed a smell of roses or express an opinion on the event’s significance because I was too busy laughing.
Often God enters our lives in very unexpected and in very ordinary, mundane ways. Nothing is too tiny or insignificant to speak to us of God’s presence, or to reveal a glimpse of his kingdom. Every day we encounter different people, we’re confronted with a catalogue or series of events and happenings. In our crowded lives do we have room to recognise and experience what God is trying to say to us? There is a temptation to parcel or compartmentalise or faith life, relegate our time for God until a Sunday.
In the calling of the disciples we hear how from the beginning, Peter, sensing something about Jesus’ identity and authority was able to put his faith and trust in him. Even though he had laboured all night in vain through his own efforts he still was open to accepting Jesus’ word. When we learn to trust in God and follow his voice then incredible things can happen even in the most ordinary of events.
In our daily lives we are re asked to surrender control to Jesus as he guides us through the events and people we encounter in life. Peter, when confronted by the power of God, became acutely aware of his own sinfulness and unworthiness. But Jesus comes to free all people of the burdens which enslave and prevent them becoming the person God wants them to be.
We should not fear or resist God’s approach because only in following God’s path can we find true happiness and peace. The challenge is to find the courage and the generosity to leave behind those activities and distractions which prevent people from responding to God’s call and following in his footsteps along the way of the Kingdom.