I want to thank everyone who wrote such nice comments concerning my mom's death. I deeply appreciate the kind words and your prayers for my mom and our family!
My mom at my 30th Anniversary Celebration at St. Joseph, Macon in June of 2010
I had told my mom over and over again that while I did celebrate my father's funeral Mass and preach the homily 25 years ago, that I didn't think I could celebrate her funeral Mass and preach the homily. She said "do what you want to do" over the years.
Well, somehow, and I asked many to pray for me to get through it, I was able to celebrate her funeral Mass and preach the homily. The only thing I asked the pastor of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Augusta to do was the Final Commendation (although I incensed my mom's body during the Song of Farewell), and to preside at the Rite of Committal at the graveside (which by the way is right next to the Augusta National, but actually overlooks the Augusta Country Club's golf course, the two courses contiguous with one another). Many people believe that the Augusta National is a bit of heaven! It was a beautiful last full day of Summer in Augusta which has weather very similar to Livorno, Italy.
I was able to preach this homily by using examples that I knew wouldn't trigger any unexpected cracking of the voice or actual tears, in other words, I knew my limits:
Introduction: You never never where you will end up when you marry an American Soldier! My mother was living far from an safe or ordinary life in Livorno, Italy, near Florence, a part of Tuscany, when at about age 22, World War II broke out in Italy and Livorno was first targeted by the Americans during the Nazi collaboration with Mussolini and then by the Nazi's during American occupation. In fact, her home town was bombed so much that Italy evacuated the civilians of Livorno to a safer area. My mom and her family lived in the caves near Siena!
Prior to that, during an American Air Raid, my mother and her family happened to be elsewhere. Residents usually took shelter in apartment building basements. My mother's family apartment was an 8 story building. During that air raid, her apartment took a direct hit and imploded into the basement killing everyone in it. Only by the grace of God was my mom and her parents and siblings elsewhere at the time and uninjured. In fact, the entire family escaped near death experiences several time and all survived the war. The only major tragedy took place shortly after the war in Livorno, where my mom's brother, Gianni, walked behind a U.S. Army truck and it unexpectedly back-up over him crushing him, and killing him instantly.
Toward the end of the war my mom was able to get a job in the kitchen of a US Army hospital and my father who was a American Soldier made his way from Cape Breton, Canada, to Detroit, MI to New York City and then on to fight during WWII in North African and then in southern Italy making his way up the boot to Livorno and the same Army Hospital kitchen my mom worked at and the rest is history, they married on Dec. 1st, 1945. Being married to my father enabled her to travel to places she never thought she would. My sister was born December 27, 1946 and they moved from Livorno in 1947 to the Bronx, New York. But that was short-lived as my mother absolutely hated The Bronx and completely missed Italy, so my father re-enlisted in the Army and was then back to Livorno where my brother was born on August 22, 1948. They were transferred to Trieste, Italy, near the Yugosalvia boarder. Then in 1951 they were transferred to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey for a year or so and then transferred back to Italy to live in Naples, Italy where I was born on December 21, 1953. Northern Italians look down on southern Italians, so I was considered the black sheep of the family! Then they we were transferred to Atlanta in the summer of 1956 and then on to Augusta on April Fool's Day, 1960 where we stayed. In all her travels in leaving her beloved homeland and Livorno with her large family of 7 brothers and sisters, and her mom and dad, she knew the pain of saying good-bye but also the joy of creating a new life. And if World War II didn't kill her, moving here and there wasn't going to either. She loved Augusta and told me after her last visit to Italy that Livorno was a nice place to visit but she preferred Augusta now. Of course in Augusta there was little Italy with all kinds of war brides coming in the 1950's and 60's. There were also German and French ones too. Some of her Italian friends were from her hometown of Livorno others from Verona, Trieste, Naples and Florence. In fact one friend she had growing up in Livorno also married a soldier and ended up living next door to us in Augusta in the late 1970's and early 80's! Small world.
Topic Statement: And now my mom is on another fearless journey to our true homeland, heaven, and we are assisting her with our prayers, like the ocean liner that assisted us in getting to Georgia in the summer of 1956.
1. Of course the Church Jesus founded is the ship that brings us to eternal life made possible by His life, death and resurrection.
A. I've always preached that it is a blessing, a special grace to be able to grieve when our grief is firmly placed on the ship of faith and immersed in the death and resurrection of our Lord. As Christians we see life as so precious that it is instinctual, implanted in our hearts and souls that there is more to life than what meets the eyes and that every precious human life, human soul continues forever. Our faith tells us that life is changed, not ended when our mortal bodies lie in death. How hard it must be for those who grieve but have no hope of life continuing on after this one concludes! Jesus of course is the reason for our hope in salvation, that the doors are flung wide open for the ship of faith to find save harbor and for an eternity with God and all the redeemed in Christ.
B. Paul's first Letter to the Thessalonians is filled with hope, not only about our eternal salvation that begins at the moment we are conceived, but about the whole world when Jesus will return at the end of time to complete the work of salvation first begun after Adam and Eve's original sin. Not only does Jesus save our souls, he will save our bodies and as from the clay of the earth God fashioned the body of Adam, so too will our bodies once they return to the earth be refashioned at the Second Coming of Jesus like the Glorified body of Jesus Christ in the resurrection of the dead. What a glorious hope our faith in Jesus gives us.
2. Yes, today we turn our thoughts to God and heaven and what heaven and God must be like.
A. My mom had been sleeping a lot this past year as she sat on the couch. When I visited her, she would fall into a light sleep and immediately begin to dream and would be speaking to people in the dream. In fact, she would be speaking out loud to them for me to hear, mostly in Italian but also English. There would be pauses for the other person to respond. It was like listening to someone on the phone and wondering what the other person was saying. She was visiting with her parents, her siblings, my father and others that had journeyed on to the other side of life. She also started seeing my father a lot here at home. He was hanging around the house even though he died 25 years ago and in another house. I've just gotten a new car, way too nice for me, and I told my mom that I had one. One Sunday night when I came in from Macon, she thought I was my dad. Trying to defend the fact that I was me and not him, I told her, Mama, I'm Allan, I just bought a new car. I'm a priest and I live in Macon. She was unconvinced, so I didn't push it any further, although the next morning she knew me and didn't bring up the night before. The next week when I came in on Sunday, much to my relief, she knew who I was. But then she said this to me in all seriousness, "Guess what, your father bought a new car too, he now lives in Macon and he is a priest!" In all of these dreams and visions, I think heaven was being experienced and the great reunion with God and all those redeemed in the Blood of Christ and it was happening on this side of life for her!
B. The salvation of our souls in heaven even now and the resurrection of the dead at the second coming are all made possible by Jesus Christ. Jesus tells Martha in today's Gospel, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if that person dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. My mom believed this and so do we! Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who is in the world and our personal lives to save us. Yes, we still grieve because life is changed, but it is not ended, so our grief is hope-filled grief of believers, not despair-filled grief on the unbelievers.
Conclusion: As we continue this Mass, let us give thanks to God for the re-presentation of the One Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross at this altar and may our worthy reception of Christ's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity be the fuel that sustains our voyage on the ship to eternal life.