Saturday, January 24, 2015

Homily for Memorial Mass for Mary Quinlan

Homily for the Memorial Mass
for Mary Quinlan (1916-2014)
Jan. 22, 2015
Is 25: 6-9
Rev 14: 13
Luke 24: 13-35                                              
Our Lady Star of the Sea, North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

My dad's older sister, my Aunt Mary, was also my godmother. She died on the nite of Dec. 8, after about 15 happy years at Chambrel (assisted living and finally more intense care) in Williamsburg, Va., close to the home of my cousins Christine and Chris Ward. Prior to that she lived in Calabash, N.C., from late 1977 and worshiped at Our Lady Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach, about 10 miles down U.S. 17. We celebrated a memorial Mass for her there and placed her cremains in the parish's columbarium next to those of her husband Martin Quinlan (+1978).

“The two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24: 35).

Emmaus Icon (Jeanne Jugan Residence, Bronx)
(c) 2004 George & Sergio Pinecross.
[For more on the inconographers, see Contact Sergio at 978-688-6795.]
The disciples of Jesus have just gone thru the shocking experience of his sudden arrest, his trial in the dead of nite, and his humiliating and painful public execution.  Many, if not most, of the disciples, moreover, were scared out of their wits that they also might be arrested and put to death, perceived as threats to public order by the Roman overlords or the chief priests, or both.  You know how the 12, except Judas, abandoned Jesus and ran for their lives, how Peter denied knowing Jesus at all, how they cowered in the upper room behind locked doors.

Some leave for home as soon as the Sabbath is over, like Cleopas and his unnamed companion in the gospel passage we just heard.  (That unnamed companion may well have been his wife, one of the women identified as having stood with our Blessed Mother and Mary Magdalene by Jesus’ cross [John 19:25].)

So they go home despondent that all their hopes for Israel, their country, their religion, have died with Jesus.  They explain all this to a stranger who joins them on the road.

I’m sure that despondence isn’t what we feel today about our mother, grandmother, aunt, friend Mary.  We feel sad, naturally, that we’ve lost someone dear to us, someone who loved us, someone who for most of us was part of our lives as long as we can remember.  But we also rejoice that she enjoyed a good, long, happy life, even if for the last 10 years or so she wasn’t the person we knew and treasured until then.  We rejoice that for 98 years she shared love, kindness, patience, generosity, a simple faith in God with all of us—those are the “works” that “accompany” her to the presence of her Lord, as Revelation says (14:13); those are the testimony of her love for her Lord, and for the Lord’s people—not only her family, but her family above all, for as the proverb tells us, charity begins at home; charity means love, in all the forms that love takes, and the most important love is for the people who are in our lives day in and day out.  We all have experienced Aunt Mary’s love.  This basic love was her response to the love offered to her thru her relationship with Jesus—nothing fancy, nothing flashy, nothing the world would notice; just the simple, everyday following of her vocation as wife and mother and neighbor and believer in Jesus.

For all that, why aren’t we despondent at the loss of our mother—no one’s so irreplaceable as a mother!—our grandmother, our aunt, our friend?

As Paul Harvey used to say, we need the rest of the story.  St. Luke tells us that on the road to Emmaus Jesus goes thru the whole OT and “interprets to them”—to Cleopas and his companion—“what referred to him in all the scriptures” (24:27).  That must have been quite a catechism lesson, considering that it was 7 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  As a veteran hiker I can assure you that took them a little while, especially since they were conversing.      

Even so, the pieces don’t fit together for Cleopas and his companion until they sit down for dinner, and Jesus “takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them.  With that their eyes are opened and they recognize him” (cf. 24:30-31).

That brief passage is a classic description of the Eucharist, of the action that the Church daily repeats in memory of Jesus:  taking bread, blessing it with Jesus’ own words, breaking it, and giving it—his Body and Blood—to his faithful.

The Eucharistic action of Jesus completes the Scriptural understanding of Cleopas and his companion.  With the Scripture and the sacred liturgy, suddenly they understand what Jesus’ life and death mean; understand that he has been their companion along the way—risen, fully alive, and restoring their hope for Israel, but in a completely new way.

Likewise, when we consider Aunt Mary (Mom, Grandma) and her life’s journey, and consider where we are today and why, we understand it all in the light of God’s Word and of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.  Mary’s life and death reach their full meaning in her having lived what Jesus taught in the Gospels as best she could and in her faithful celebration of the Eucharist as long as she was able.  (Thank you, Christine and Chris [Ward], for helping her do that when could no longer drive herself, as well as for all the care you gave her in these last years.)

Christine Ward (nee Quinlan), Aunt Mary, Chris Mendl in May 2011
We’re not despondent but hopeful because Aunt Mary believed that Jesus is risen and he lives in his Scriptures and his sacraments, and she came faithfully to hear his Word proclaimed, made it part of her life, and received his Body and Blood so that his life became part of hers.  “This is the Lord for whom we looked,” Isaiah says; “let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us” (25:9).

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