Saturday, March 28, 2009

Death of a Catholic Southern Gentleman

I met him only once when our children's choir went to his elegant home last Christmas to sing carols for him. He sat in a Louis chair, dressed in a wool suit, an ascot around his neck. He rested his arms on the chair's arm rests. His fingers long and slender. At that moment he features reminded me of an El Greco figure, his face bearing long decades of living through sufferings and joys, yet retaining a deep contentment.

He was close to death just a few months before, yet pulled through. So we were happy to be there in his family room, surrounded by family mementos and the giant Christmas tree, a giant trainset underneath.

He delighted in the children's happy voices and clapped in rhythm with their singing. For weeks after our visit, he spoke again and again of his happiness at our coming. I often think about how little it takes to delight and how busy our lives are from seeing the power of such a corporal work of mercy.

On the Feast of the Annunciation, just a week after his Ninety-second Birthday, he fell asleep in the Lord. He died a faithful son of the Church, living through periods in this part of the South that is not especially friendly to Catholics. His beneficence to our parish is a legacy which I and my family have inherited along with fellow parishioners. Through his generosity, we are able to worship in so beautiful a space. What a debt we have in a time when ugliness is elevated, we can enter into God's house and see and smell and hear what it means to be Catholic.

His large and close-knit family will miss his gentle and sweet presence. His funeral this afternoon will be first to give praise to God and to pray for the repose of this gentleman's soul, and through the reverence of the worship, may his family be consoled.

Last night, his wake was in his home, a stark contrast to the modern way of "doing death". Those coming to pay respects saw the reminders of a life lived in Faith.

Rest in peace, sweet J.J. May Martyrs receive you and Choirs of Angels greet you at your coming into the holy city of Jerusalem. And with Lazarus who once was poor, may you have rest eternal. And may our imperfect songs and chants rise up to give glory to God whom you served so well in this earthly life.

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