Homily for Betty Jane Coleman
Christmas In July. No doubt you noticed the Christmas tree in our narthex either yesterday at the visitation or this morning when you arrived. “What!” you may ask? Has Father Al lost his marbles preaching about Christmas at Betty Jane’s funeral? What’s the connection? I’ll tell you!
At the heart of our Mass, our Eucharistic banquet, is the remembering. When we remember Christ, Christ becomes present in the breaking of the bread — in response to the heartfelt desires of God’s people. Our Jewish brothers and sisters know this so well. [And our Mass prayers beginning “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation…” comes straight from the Jewish liturgy.] In remembering the person, the person becomes present again. Certainly, anyone who has told stories of deceased relatives knows this. Yes, indeed, the dead are still with us. Catholics call this the Communion of Saints. When Christ becomes present in the Eucharistic banquet, so does the whole household of God, the whole heavenly court, the friends of God. We, who see through the eyes of faith, believe that Betty is here with us in the breaking of the bread this morning. She, like Christ, knew what it was to serve others, certainly her family and certainly her church, marked by devotion to the youth group. This goes back to her childhood when she was chosen to crown Mary in the May procession. Her death was sudden, yet as, today’s gospel explains she was wise in her faith and we believe she was prepared to meet her Lord.
You, her family, can give thanks to God for her very full, long, faithful, loving life of service to her family and to her church. A noble woman, indeed, her worth was “far beyond pearls,” as we heard in the first reading from Proverbs. “Her works” will, indeed, “praise her at the city gates.” These gates, of course, span Pocahontas, Arkansas, Jamestown, Kentucky and, most recently, Harrodsburg – and heaven. And on Wednesday evening: From Harrodsburg to heaven – not bad! Has a nice ring to it, no?
Yes, the dead are always with us. Betty Jane is with us, of shining memory, shining like Christmas. Two Christmases ago I saw a Christmas film. It’s called The Man Who Invented Christmas. It is about Charles Dickens and how he came to write A Christmas Carol. There is a scene in which Dickens hears an Irish serving girl in his own household tell a story to his children, a story she had learned from her granny in Ireland when she was a child. Dickens is intrigued, and he asks her to tell him more.
Her granny’s story goes that on Christmas Eve the veil separating the living from the dead is lifted, and the dead roam the earth, coming to meet the living. From this story, of course, Dickens gets his inspiration for the ghosts of Christmas past, present and to come. He tells his illustrator, William Leech, that he wants the ghosts to look happy, happy to be coming to greet the living. We can learn from this. The dead are always with us. Betty Jane is with us. The veil between the living and the dead is lifted primarily in the Eucharist, God-with-Us, Emmanuel. Just like Christmas! See? Expect to meet Betty Jane there.
I’ll tell you: She is a renewed source of energy. You can also be thankful that she is still with you as a profound source of life-giving energy — for you. Expect to feel her presence within you. Like the Holy Spirit, the Advocate whose gifts she received at her Confirmation. No shew will advocate for you form a powerful place. Although you grieve now, this sense of her presence will give you a feeling of peace, more so as time goes on. Expect to feel it and pay attention to it when it comes. A mother doesn’t quit being on the job. Betty Jane is still at work. No mother quits on the job. She will not leave you. Like the Risen Christ, she will say, “Yes, I am here. It is I.” Take consolation in this knowledge.
May the reminder of Christmas in July remind you, her family -and all of us here – of Christ the Light, represented by this Pascal Candle. Betty Jane, we pray, now dwells in this Light, shining like a spark, shining like Christmas, Christ-with-us, Betty-with-us, in Christ, beyond the shadow of death. Comfort yourselves with this knowledge.
Reverend Albert J. DeGiacomo
22 July 2019