Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thoughts during and after my Mom's funeral Mass

The photo above is a final caress by Mom's great-grandson Asher, not long before her death.

I suppose I am prejudiced in the matter, but my mother's funeral liturgies – both Vespers last night and the funeral Mass this morning – were entirely, absolutely glorious. I am too drained to even start to thank those who attended and planned it, but I thought I'd post my own remarks at the Final Commendation below.

After I use Archbishop Miller's homily as the basis for my own at a small family celebration in Toronto this week (we will lay Mom to rest beside my Dad in the family plot in Hamilton), I will post that as well.

My first assignment after ordination was to St. Patrick’s Parish in Vancouver. I had barely unpacked before I heard about Msgr. Louis Forget, who had been the pastor there for nearly 45 years. He had been dead for more than twenty years, but the people still talked about him often. 

The first thing I learned was that Msgr. Forget had inspired more than one hundred young men and women to enter seminaries and convents. I resolved then and there to do my best to imitate him by promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Can’t say I’ve been quite as successful – my record is still in single digits (though there’s still time!) 

The second thing was that Msgr. Forget regularly cried from the pulpit. I thought that was really weird – a monsignor crying in public. Can you imagine!

Being unable to speak when I’m emotional is a pretty serious occupational handicap, no more so than today. But like many other handicaps, it has an upside. It justified my imposing on the Archbishop to preach today, in the midst of one of his busiest times. 

Archbishop Michael, I am deeply grateful to you for having presided at the funerals of both my parents. I did preach at Dad’s, but only because – for some unknown reason – he asked me to. Mom didn’t ask, so I didn’t preach.  

I’m also grateful to Father Jeff Thompson for preaching last night. He has only been with us at Christ the Redeemer since July, but my mother liked him immediately. In one of their first conversations, which he related last night, she said brightly, “I hear you like martinis” and he replied, “I certainly do – I live for Friday nights.” To which she responded, “And I live for 4:30.” 

Needless to say, I am deeply touched to see my dear friend Bishop David Monroe and so many brother priests and deacons along with the wives of many of our permanent deacons. 

And thank you all for sharing this beautiful but painful time with our family. I wish I could express my gratitude to all those who have made this liturgy and this church so beautiful today. But if I try, things will go downhill fast. I will try to put some thoughts in writing in due course. 

Speaking of which, I do hope you will look at the few words at the back of your Mass booklet, which include a brief summary of my mother’s final days. I mentioned that I’ve tried to follow Msgr. Forget’s example in promoting vocations, particularly to the priesthood. Well, as most of you know, my life as a priest has been indescribably happy, but had it been entirely miserable, my final 48 hours with my mother would have been more than enough to make these 33 years well worth it. 

I hope every young man in church, and everyone who reads my words on the Internet considers the amazing blessings a priest can bring his family in return for the blessings they have brought to him.

To the mothers and grandmothers in the congregation this morning: Did you like this funeral?  Well, there’s only one way to get one like it! [They got the point—to have a son a priest—and the church rocked with laughter.]

And back to Msgr. Forget’s tendency to weep: no one should, for a moment, interpret my strong emotions today, or those of my siblings, mainly as grief. They are not. It’s gratitude, not grief, that bring our tears. 

My family and I are filled with gratitude – for my mother, for our friends and hers, and for those wonderful doctors, nurses, and caregivers that helped her reach the end of her life with such dignity and comfort. 

As Father Jeff said last night, this glorious Eucharistic liturgy is but a foretaste of what Mom has inherited as a reward of faith and a faithful life. We conclude now with a beautiful Rite of Final Commendation. It draws our attention to powerful symbols, including the Easter Candle at the head of the casket and the baptismal robe that drapes it. We use holy water as a reminder of baptism. And we normally use incense, a symbol of the prayers of God’s people rising before his throne in heaven. 

But not today. Towards the end of her life, I thought Mom might bring up the subject of her funeral. She didn’t. So the only wish I had to honour was a lighthearted promise I made to her many years ago. For some unknown reason, she really disliked incense, which led me to promise more than once that there would be none at her funeral.  I’m keeping that promise today!  

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Jane Catherine Smith 1932 - 2019

Jane was born in Hamilton, Ontario, the third and youngest child of Sheldon and Jessie (née McInnes) Banwell. She had a lifelong love for the city of her birth, to which she returned for some years before moving to British Columbia after the death of her husband Neil McCabe Smith, who died in 2011.

Jane and Neil had five children, Gregory, Sheila, Nancy, Stephen and Kevin, whose marriages brought David, Dennis, Nicole and Erin into the family. They were blessed with ten grandchildren, Jennifer, Geoffrey, Kimberly, Sarah Jane, Jessie, William, Neil, Alix, Adam, and Charlotte. Jen’s marriage to Kevin gave Jane two lovely great-grandchildren, Quinn and Asher.

She was predeceased by her brother Douglas, sister Margaret Rymal, and son-in-law Dennis Webster.

During her years in B.C., Jane was an active member of Christ the Redeemer Parish, enjoying many parish activities and the Catholic Women’s League. She joined St. Pius X Parish when she could no longer drive, returning to Christ the Redeemer this year when she moved to Amica Lions Gate just two blocks from the church.

While she would want to be remembered first as a devoted wife and mother, Jane had an amazing capacity for friendship, treasuring long-time relationships and making new dear friends at both Banff Court and Amica.

Her years of physical decline were made much happier and healthier by the dedicated care of Dr. Tim Kostamo, Dr. Klaudia Biskupska, and Dr. Nicole Barre, whose regular visits to Amica were a key source of peace during the last eight months for both Jane and her family members.

The kindness, competence and generosity of the nurses, staff and caregivers at Amica Lions Gate was deeply appreciated by Jane and her family members. She found both physical and emotional security in their 24/7 attention, and her final days were blessed by incomparable tenderness and professional attention. Amica calls its caregivers “Resident Care Partners,” but the family will remember them more as angels in human form.

Jane celebrated Thanksgiving with a large family brunch on Sunday, received Holy Communion and the Anointing of the Sick from her son and pastor that evening, and by the evening of Thanksgiving Day was clearly failing. She had at least one of her children with her from then on. On Tuesday afternoon, they gathered for the recitation of the Church’s prayers for the dying.

During the night on Wednesday, she briefly opened her eyes and managed a slight smile. Jane died on the morning of her 87th birthday, October 16, as her two eldest children stood praying beside her bed.

The funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, October 29, by the Most Reverend J. Michael Miller, Archbishop of Vancouver, with funeral prayers Monday evening at 7:30 p.m., both at Christ the Redeemer Parish, 599 Keith Road, West Vancouver.

Console one another, then, with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:18