Father Gary’s address at Elena’s funeral was, in my view, perfect for the occasion. I can not imagine how hard it is for a priest to prepare for such an address. When a six year old dies it would be easy for a priest to say “it’s God’s will” or “she’s in a better place.” Father Gary did not take the easy approach. He dug down deep and spoke to us and those gathered in a personal way that spoke to our questions and frustrations without dismissing them.
We’ve all been to funerals where the person officiating didn’t really know the person who died or their family. They may mispronounce the person’s name or paint a picture of their life that those gathered don’t recognize. Gary has known Maggie and Elena as long as we have. Kim has been a member of his church. When we were first married we lived in a house just a couple of blocks from Our Lady of Peace and Kim would walk over each Sunday and I would meet her for breakfast afterwards.
Here, with permission, is the text of Father Gary’s Homily.
- ELENA STEINBERG (FEBRUARY 27, 2006)
I WANT TO WELCOME ALL OF YOU – ESPECIALLY ELENA’S FAMILY AND THEIR GOOD FRIENDS TO OUR LADY OF PEACE CHURCH. EVERYONE WHO VISITS THIS PLACE REMARKS ON WHAT A BEAUTIFUL CHURCH WE HAVE – AND THEY ARE RIGHT. BUT ITS REAL BEAUTY IS NOT CONTAINED IN MOSAIC OR MARBLE. THIS PLACE IS BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE OF THE PEOPLE WHO COME HERE TO PRAY AND TO CELEBRATE THE PRESENCE OF GOD. ELENA WAS ONE OF THOSE SPECIAL PEOPLE WHO MAKE THIS PLACE BEAUTIFUL.
DANIEL AND KIM, ON WEDNESDAY EVENING IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM OF UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL I JOINED THE COMMUNITY OF YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS – ALL OF US BEGINNING OR SOON TO BEGIN A SEARCH FOR A WORD WE COULD OFFER TO CONSOLE YOU — ALL THE WHILE KNOWING THAT NO WORD, HOWEVER SINCERELY SPOKEN, – NO SENTANCE, HOWEVER WISE, COULD ACCOMPLISH HALF OF WHAT WE HOPED IT WOULD DO. YOU SEE, WHEN AN OLD PERSON DIES, THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS TO SAY. “HE HAD A GOOD LIFE.” “SHE LIVED LIFE TO THE FULL.” AND, SOMETIMES WHEN A PERSON HAD SUFFERED FOR A LONG TIME WE EVEN SAY, SINCERELY, THAT “DEATH WAS A BLESSING – A BLESSING IN DISGUISE.” BUT WHEN SOMEONE AS YOUNG AND AS FULL OF LIFE AS ELENA IS TAKEN FROM US IT IS NO BLESSING IN OR OUT OF DISGUISE. WE FEEL CHEATED AND BETRAYED BY THE GOD WE TRUSTED. WE’RE CONFUSED – AND YES, WE ARE ANGRY. ANGRY AT GOD, ASKING JUST WHERE GOD WAS ON WEDNESDAY, AND ANGRY AT OURSELVES BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE THE WORD, WE DON’T HAVE THE SENTENCE. WE CAN’T FIND THE SAYING THAT COULD MAKE SENSE OUT OF THIS FOR YOU OR FOR US.
THAT EVENING WHEN WE GATHERED TOGETHER AROUND ELENA – WE ANOINTED HER – WE PRAYED TOGETHER – AND THERE WERE TEARS THAT NO PARENT OR GRANDPARENT SHOULD EVER BE CALLED ON TO SHED. WHEN OUR PRAYERS FELL SILENT – I HEARD ONE OF ELENA’S GRANDMOTHERS SAY, MORE TO HERSELF THAN TO ANYONE ELSE, “WE WERE SO LUCKY – WE WERE SO LUCKY TO HAVE HER AS LONG AS WE DID.” THE WISDOM AND THE FAITH OF GRANDMOTHERS — GRANDMOTHERS LIKE PRISCILLA AND GERALDINE: SOMETIMES THAT’S ALL WE HAVE TO KEEP US FROM SCREAMING OUT LOUD.
IT WAS THE WORDS OF A GRIEVING GRANDMOTHER THAT HELPED ME REALIZE WHERE GOD WAS ON WEDNESDAY. GOD WAS RIGHT THERE. GOD WAS IN THAT LITTLE ROOM WITH US. GOD WAS WEEPING WITH ELENA’S PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS. OUR FAITH ISN’T A SUIT OF ARMOR – WE HAVE ALL LEARNED THAT TO ONE DEGREE OR ANOTHER. IT HAS NEVER CLAIMED TO BE A GUARANTEE THAT ACCIDENTS WON’T HAPPEN, TRAGEDIES WON’T WOUND US – OR EVEN THAT BEAUTIFUL AND PRECIOUS LITTLE GIRLS WON’T DIE. OUR FAITH IS A PROMISE THAT GOD IS BESIDE US AND WITH US TO BEAR US UP WHENEVER ANY OF THOSE TERRIBLE THINGS INVADE OUR FAMILIES AND OUR LIVES.
THE NINETIETH PSALM – A PRAYER OF MOSES – CONTAINS THESE WORDS … “FOR A THOUSAND YEARS IN YOUR SIGHT ARE BUT AS YESTERDAY WHEN IT IS PAST, AND AS A WATCH IN THE NIGHT.” FOR US, SIX YEARS ALMOST SEVEN IS WAY TOO LITTLE, MUCH TOO SHORT. PERHAPS IN THE EYES OF AN ETERNAL GOD FOR WHOM A THOUSAND YEARS AND A YESTERDAY ARE THE SAME, FOR WHOM TIME HOLDS NO MEANING – ELENA LIVED A COMPLETE AND PERFECT LIFE – A LIFE THAT WAS BLESSED AND SANCTIFIED. FOR EVERY ONE OF THOSE YEARS AND YESTERDAYS, AND WATCHES IN THE NIGHT, SHE WAS WANTED AND LOVED, TREASURED AND CHERISHED. TRUTHFULLY, WE CAN SAY SHE HAD A GOOD LIFE. MAYBE WE CAN EVEN SAY SHE DID LIVE LIFE TO THE FULL.
ON THOSE SUNDAY MORNINGS – WHEN ELENA AND MAGGIE AND MOM MADE IT TO CHURCH ON TIME WHICH WAS, WELL –TO BE KIND – ABOUT THIRTY PERCENT OF THE TIME. THEY SAT IN THIS SECTION CLOSE TO THE ALTAR. WHEN THE MUSIC BEGAN AND CROSS AND CANDLES LED THE PROCESSION DOWN THE AISLE, I COULD SEE KIM AND MAGGIE FOLLOWING THE WORDS IN THE HYMNAL, FACING THE SANCTUARY, AND JOINING IN PRAYER – ELENA HAD OTHER THINGS TO DO – MOSTLY ENTERTAINING THOSE WHO SAT IN THE SAME SECTION OF CHURCH. AS I CAME DOWN THE AISLE SHE WOULD PEAK AROUND MOM AND GIVE ME SMILE AND A WAVE. THAT WAS HER GIFT TO ME AND TO OUR CHURCH. I LOOKED FORWARD TO THAT SO MUCH.
DANIEL, AND KIM AND MAGGIE, I KNOW THAT WORDS ARE MORE THAN USELESS RIGHT NOW. BUT WE WERE LUCKY TO HAVE HER FOR AS LONG AS WE DID – AND WE KNOW THAT WE SHOULDN’T STOP LOOKING FOR HER SMILE OR FOR THAT WAVE – FOR THIS SEPARATION IS ONLY TEMPORARY. WE WILL ENJOY THEM AGAIN BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, BECAUSE …. A THOUSAND YEARS IN HIS SIGHT ARE BUT AS YESTERDAY WHEN IT IS PAST, THEY ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A WATCH IN THE NIGHT.