Monday, February 6, 2012

For Grandma

Adele Zuba, my paternal grandmother, stole away from this world at this hour one year ago tonight. She was eighty-four years old.

At her funeral Mass, I delivered some words of remembrance after Communion. Here, for you and for her, are those words.


It is a work of mercy to bury the dead, the Church teaches us. It is a work of love to remember the dead, the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard tells us. These are the highest things a human being can do. The rest we leave to God, whose mercy brings an end to the suffering of our dying loved ones, and whose love remembers them into new life. When one of the dying thieves who was crucified together with Jesus begged him to “remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus said this because God remembers us, and God’s memory is powerful enough to bring our bodies, lost to this world, into the undying life of heaven.

We are here to remember Grandma because we will continue to love her as we did when she was in this world. I pray that if we truly did love her, that we may remain steadfast in our love. If our love for her was ever lost, I pray that we may renew our love for her and know her once again as if for the first time. I ask God to be merciful to us and show us how to love, for God is love and is always the one who loved us first.

We are here to ask this loving God, through the risen Christ, to bring Grandma into life everlasting. God has already been merciful to her and given her release from the struggle of earthly life. The last four years of her life were a struggle, sad, lonely, and anxious. They were sad years because she lost so many things that go to make up a life—her home and her community in Flushing, her friends, her mobility, her independence. They were lonely years because she could not make new connections to replace the ones she lost. She longed for heaven; she longed for my Granddad. And they were anxious years because she knew her mind was dissolving and there was nothing she or we could do about it.

In this world she felt like a lodger who had long overstayed her welcome. We did not want her to feel this way, but none of us could satisfy the deepest longing of her heart. Only God could do that. Nevertheless, God bless my father and mother and brother for doing so much and sacrificing so much to keep her healthy and happy.

And as I have said, God has been merciful. Grandma has been spared years of a living limbo. Now we ask God through the remembering love of Jesus to carry her over the void of eternal death. In spite of the sin that causes most of our emotional and spiritual suffering; in spite of the physical evil of sickness and irreversible decay, the God of Jesus Christ holds all of creation together in himself, and nothing that was made in God’s love which remains in God’s love is ever lost.

Over the years Grandma frequently prayed for me that God would show me the way, and as the fatigue in her mind and body became permanent, she would make this prayer for herself, too. This is a very good prayer. And I know she prayed it well. This way is our true happiness. She meant for God to show us the way into the true life of God, the way into eternity. She was right to ask God to show us this way because we cannot find this way ourselves. We can’t find this way through our own skill or by luck. Only God can reveal this way, and having revealed it, give us the courage to follow it wherever it leads. We are all pilgrims on the way to eternity. We also call eternity the kingdom of God, the new Jerusalem, or just plain old heaven. But this world is the only place where we can start the journey. This time is the only time we have been given to make our way toward the timeless. And it is in this time and place that our destination begins ever so faintly to become visible. It takes faith to sharpen our senses to see it. It takes hope to believe that it will become clearer and nearer. And it takes love to leap forward into that new age. So today, in this place, let us make our pilgrimage to the city of God, taking Grandma’s prayer as our compass.

What I will remember of Grandma, what I will carry with me into eternity, or to put it better, what will carry me through this day and every moment into eternity, is her gentleness toward all; her cheerfulness toward both neighbors and strangers; her appreciation of beauty and her own eye for it; her generosity of affection toward me and Jennifer and Nicholas, as well as her delight in our gifts and talents; and above all her simplicity of spirit and purity of heart. The Grandma I knew held no hate in her heart against any other human being. I am in awe of her because of this. I saw her get angry only once in my life, and that was when Jen and I were romping around her house making a ruckus. It was the only time she ever hollered at us, and when she began to yell at us, Jen and I froze. We were mortified, because it was so out of character for Grandma to raise her voice to anybody. She was a lamb, truly a lamb, with not a trace of wolf in her.

We come to remember Grandma the real person. The real and less-than-perfect but faithful daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother: this is the person who will be saved. We know the ways she missed the mark of holiness or fell short of the measure of loving-kindness in her most important relationships. We know she did not live as fully as God intended her to live—so it may be said of all of us. But let us praise her virtues. It is easier to hate than to love, and as I have said already, Grandma, as far as I know, chose not to hate anyone. It takes a strong person to fulfill such a resolution. She was confident enough in God’s love that she could resist the temptation to anger and resentment and avoid violence not only in her words and actions but also in her private thoughts. And by her love, our sins against her and each other were covered, not out of willful ignorance of wrongdoing or prudishness in the face of ugly human indecency, but out of a deep desire for peace and reconciliation, and a clear-eyed hope for a better way of relating to one another. I hope that Grandma will continue to pray for us, first for peace within ourselves and in all our families and then, reconciled to each other, that we may be instruments of peace in our troubled world, bearing the invincible love of God to everyone we see.

For a final word, with the help of the Holy Spirit who joins us in love’s peaceful bond to the communion of saints, I want to speak directly to Grandma. Grandma, I pray that your presence remains with us on earth even as we trust that you will now dwell in heaven. I pray that you are aware in a mysterious way of everything that we are saying and doing, although we will never be able to know this except in the blessing of dreams and visions. I call on you to ask God to guide us by that divine love whose law is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Watch over us as we enter love’s narrow gate and follow that bending path, that rounding road, with the rising sun to brighten that most perfect way. And may we have the courage to follow where you have gone, to follow in passion to the cross and even beyond the crucifixion to the other side of death. I say this because you have loved me, Grandma, and I love you, too, from the beginning and now and always. We believe in this love, Grandma—it is the way, and with God’s help it will be our way.

Jesus, we trust in your loving power. We trust in the kingdom God has given to you. Now remember Grandma in your love, and we will remember her in ours.

Given at Our Lady of Grace Parish, West Babylon, N.Y., on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011.

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