Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Reflection for the memorial service for my mother on the occasion of her first anniversary on the feast of the Annunciation

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

We are gathered here for Mom's first anniversary. I was always particularly struck by the fact that she died on the feast of the Annunciation, even if last year it was transferred because it fell during Holy Week. The Annunciation is a feast very much connected with motherhood, being not only a celebration of the moment of the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh, but also the moment the Blessed Virgin Mary became the Mother of our Lord.

But despite the fact that our mother was also called Mary, I am not going to attempt to compare her to the Blessed Virgin Mary – everyone loves their mother's, but that might be a step too far! But I will say that she was a good mother. She went to a lot of effort to make sure that Jim, Joan, and I were well fed, clothed, educated & housed; and while she was careful with money, she was generous to a fault with us in terms of helping out financially. None of her children would deny, I imagine, that they grew up in a loving home and were materially well provided for.

However, when a person has passed beyond the veil that separates us from life and death, our concern is, or should be, not whether they were good as the world might judge good, but whether they were good as God might judge it – were they holy? And being a good mother does not necessarily make you a holy person. As our Lord mentions in Luke 11.11, who among you, if your son should ask for bread will give him a stone? A parent who is good in terms of providing well in material terms for their children is not necessarily holy.

Now in relation to Mom, I think she certainly tried to be holy. I remember us well as small children, kneeling by the side of the bed in that tiny little apartment in New York that seemed so large to us then, learning to say the Our Father and Hail Mary; the care she took that we should go to Mass every Sunday and Confession regularly; how she encouraged Jim and I to be altar boys and the pride she took in it; saying the rosary in the car on those weekend trips to Newmarket by way of the Nad road through the bog and taking turns to lead a decade each. I remember her devotion to her parish church in Douglas, her involvement in fund-raising and the collecting of dues. And I remember once going to confession with her in Holy Trinity in the city, and as I waited my turn outside I heard her weeping inside. There are not many who weep over their sins, but my mother did. So she certainly tried to be holy.

But I don't want to go to the other extreme and turn her into some kind of plaster saint. In my calling in life I go to a lot of funerals and I am well aware of the tendency among the bereaved to apply their own canonisation process to their departed loved!

In truth, I think it is rather a dangerous process; I remember as a teenager, after the death of my grandmother, Nana in the terrace as we used to call her, sitting round the fireplace in the living room of my auntie Bridie and one of the mourners (her foster son, Sean Supple) saying that she was such a holy woman that we shouldn't be praying for her, we should be asking her to pray for us. And while that is a lovely sentiment, it runs the risk of our leaving that soul without our prayers. Our duty to those we love does not end with the grave; we must show our love for them even when they are gone from us by keeping them in our prayers. Both Nana and Mom were good women, God-fearing women; but I keep them both in my prayers every day. They may not need them; but I would rather not run the risk that they did and did not have them just because I thought they were too holy to need my prayers – it is not as if time spent in prayer is ever wasted.

And so, as I end, I would ask all here to continue to keep Mary Burke in their prayers. Please say the occasional Ave Maria, Memorare, or even a decade of the Rosary for her. We are told in the Revelation to St John that the saints in heaven pray unceasingly. We can be sure, I believe, that she will keep us in her prayers when she joins with the Communion of Saints and that she will pray unceasingly for all those she loved and cared for in this life. Amen

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