The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reading and Rereading

To the tiny band of loyal readers of this blog, my apologies. For the past month or so, and for no particular reason, I've taken a break from blogging.

Sometimes life just gets too busy, so busy I don't have time to think seriously about anything other than the practicalities of daily living. That's not good. We humans need to do those things that separate us from other creatures. We need to love and pray and think. And I really hadn't done much thinking lately. I believe I simply needed to step away from the unnecessary distractions and think about some of the things that have been roaming about in my aging brain. There was a need to take hold of them and pin them down. Whenever I get this way, I usually reach for a book, just to get me thinking. More often than not, it's a book I've already read, a little comfort food for the brain.

For example, about a week ago I was asked to conduct a committal service at the National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida. This happens frequently since our parish is not far from the cemetery and we deacons are more than willing to assist more distant parishes by conducting these services for them.

I always include a brief homily during committals. After all, the committal is the final rite of the funeral, the time when family and friends say their public goodbyes to their loved one. It's really a very special time for most families. They need words of comfort and hope.

Flannery O'Connor
In this particular instance the deceased was a sixty-year-old woman who had suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for many years. Her husband, a retired Marine, had died three years before in a car accident. Their five children, now all in their twenties and thirties were present, along with a whole crew of grandchildren. They all mentioned how cheerful and loving this mother and grandmother had been, even in the midst of her illness and despite the tragedy of her husband's death. They would miss her terribly. It was a very sad day for these young people. What could I say to them?

As a sat down to write my brief homily, Flannery O'Connor came to mind and I reached for a book of her letters, The Habit of Being (1979). It's a thick book of over 600 pages, but after a moment's searching I found the letter I was looking for. O'Connor, who suffered her entire adult life from lupus, the disease that would ultimately take her life at age 39, wrote these words to a friend:

"I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place...and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don't have it miss one of God's mercies." [p. 163]

I included this excerpt in my homily and suggested that their mother would have known exactly what O'Connor meant by the mercy of illness. This woman they loved so much had given them the example of one who had recognized this mercy of God in her long illness and had accepted it with joy. How blessed they are as a family to have had such a wonderful mother and grandmother, someone to show them the way.

We all need people like this in our lives.

This evening I decided to begin another book I've read many times before, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. We'll see what this moral philosopher of another time and place has to teach me today.

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