Tuesday, December 15, 2020


I presided at her funeral at 11:00 am today down in Saint Theresa, my home parish. 


All ten of the lepers that came to Jesus were healed. One came back, praising God in a loud voice, falling at his feet and thanking him. Jesus said, “I cured ten lepers, did I not?Where are the other nine?

Luke 17:11-19

In my computer, I have funeral homilies for twenty uncles, aunts, brothers-in-law, cousins and various other relatives. There are many more I have written, but I have lost during computer breakdowns or wrote in the days before computers.  That does not count a lot of them that I wrote for neighbors and friends at Saint Theresa some of which I still have in my computer.  This is my third family funeral homily in the last several weeks and that doesn’t count one for neighbor growing up, Eddie Hardesty!  You people need to quit dying! Don’t you know that I am supposed to be retired, for God sake!

I decided a few years ago that I needed to start keeping notes and ideas for relatives who are getting up there in age in case I were asked to preach their funerals! As I got ready to write this homily, I came across something in my files that I had written down about Aunt Anna Catherine. It seems that I had called her on her 95th birthday. At one point, we were talking about Uncle Bob. She was telling me what a good husband he had been. She stopped at one point and said, “I probably did not tell him that enough!” Without batting an eye, or having to think about it, I said, “He knew it! He knew you felt that way!”

“I probably did not tell him enough!” The more I thought about it, the more I reflected on the gospel reading I just read, the more I realized that that could be a very important message today, from Jesus to us, from her to us, as we say our goodbyes. How many times we have thought that to ourselves after someone is gone. “I probably did not tell him or her enough how much they meant to me when they were alive.” I am reminded of an old Bluegrass song entitled, “Give Me My Flowers While I’m Living.” It goes like this: 

In this world today while we’re living
Some folks say the worst of us they can
But when we are dead and in our caskets
They always slip some lilies in our hand.

Won’t you give me my flowers while I’m living
And let me enjoy them while I can
Please don’t wait till I’m ready to be buried
And then slip some lilies in my hand

In this world is where we need our flowers
A kind word to help us get along
If you can’t give me flowers while I’m living
Then please don’t throw them when I’m gone

To give our loved ones “flowers” while they are still living means telling them how much we love them, calling them more, spending time with them, telling them good things about themselves. The gospel reading today and Aunt Anna Catherine’s words about Uncle Bob, challenges all of us to give our relatives and friends their flowers while they are still alive and can still smell them because once they are gone, it’s too late!

Ever since I have been assigned to Louisville, thirty-seven years now, I have celebrated a “home Mass” with my brothers and my sisters and their husbands At our annual family Christmas Masses, I have always said at the end, “Next year one of us might not be here! Let’s take care of each other while we can.”  We lost Paul and Tom and Kaye, pretty close together, since I started saying that!

I have developed a new habit. At the end of our phone calls, I regularly tell my sisters and brothers that I love them. At first, it was a little awkward, but now they are answering back – even my brothers!  Aunt Anna Catherine reminds me today just how important that is. I never want to get to the day where I have to say, “I probably did not tell them that enough!”

As Americans, we recently celebrated, even by ourselves, Thanksgiving Day – a day we thank God for our country, our freedom, our faith and our material blessings. As Catholics, we celebrate a Day of Thanksgiving every Sunday

We call our weekly "day of thanksgiving" by its Greek name Eucharist, meaning thanksgiving. Just as our national holiday "brings our blood family together" in gratitude, our Eucharist brings our faith family together in gratitude.

Whether it is once a year or once a week, I don't believe that either is enough. I believe that our lives could be enriched deeply if gratitude would be practiced as a spiritual discipline every hour of every day. - "always and everywhere" as the prefaces at Mass put it.

American Protestant preacher Henry Ward Beecher, an old favorite of mine, put it this way. "Let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds iron, so it will find in every hour, some heavenly blessings." This is the idea behind this whole funeral homily - running our spiritual metal detectors over the world in front of us in search of someone to encourage and something for which to be thankful!

This idea of going through the day "panning for blessings" pays off. Ezra Taft Benson said it this way. "The more we express our gratitude to God for our blessings, the more he will bring to our minds other blessings. The more we are aware of to be grateful for, the happier we become. "

Aunt Anna Catherine and Uncle Bob were very good at affirming others by expressing their gratitude. I have always felt their support and encouragement. They came to visit me in Somerset, Monticello and Lebanon. They went out of their way to show their support and let me know they were proud of me. As a result, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for them and tried to show it to them.  They were definitely some of my very favorite uncles and aunts!

Not only do we become more happy when we cultivate gratitude within our own hearts, it also make us holy. William Law made this point. "Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world: it is not he who prays most or fasts most. It is not he who gives the most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it."

The ability to be grateful and express thanks is something that must be taught to us and practiced from childhood. When it isn't, we run the possibility of growing up believing that we are entitled to all that we have and more.  Sir John Templeton captured this insight better than I can when he wrote: "How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens doors. It changes a child's personality. A child is resentful, negative or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people."

Dear relatives and friends, this is Aunt Anna Catherine’s legacy, this is her gift to you and me, this is the lesson of the gospel today,  the gift of challenging us to express gratitude while we can!    And so, even while we grieve this loss, we are still able to gather today and say “thank you God” for this wonderful woman – God’s gift to all of us who knew her – Anna Catherine Barr-Knott!     


No comments:

Post a Comment