I want to begin by welcoming you all here and sharing with you our condolences—especially to you Michael, and to Christopher, Matthew and Victoria, to the grandchildren Jessica and Andrew, and to all gathered here. Although we knew the day of Jessie’s passing from this life to the next was near, in a real way we are never prepared to say goodbye to someone we love. Know that we are praying for you here.
We do say goodbye in a way, but in another way we don’t. For we who have Christ, we believe that when one passes from this world, life is changed but not ended. Our first reading from Wisdom tells us that, even though we are tempted to think that the faithful who have gone before us are dead, and that their passing from this life is something awful, they are actually in a wonderful place: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God,” the reading says, “They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are at peace.” You see, this is possible because Christ overcame death. And because of that, he has opened the gates to life eternal. And what a life that land of glory is! We know that eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him! Whatever image we have in our minds of God’s Kingdom, it is greater than that. And it is promised to God’s faithful.
And Jessie was faithful. I’ll never forget when I visited her that first time, a couple weeks ago. She hadn’t spoken in over 24 hours, and then she spoke up at the end of our prayer. With all the strength she had, she whispered out, “Amen. Thank you.” If those weren’t her last words, they were close to it. I want us to consider briefly and to be changed by these last words of hers.
Amen. Amen is a word that often appears at the end of something. It is the last word of the bible. Many psalms end with it. Most books of the New Testament end with it. In the land of Israel, when a prayer or prophecy was made, or a law of God was read, “All the people said, “Amen.”” In teaching us how to pray, the Lord Jesus ends his perfect prayer with “Amen” (Matthew 6:13). The word “Amen” therefore appears to be the fitting last word. I find it truly beautiful that it was the last word of the book that is Jessie’s life. The word means, I believe, I hope it to be true, I know it to be true. It means, I stake my life on it. I wonder how many times Jessie said that word in the course of her life. Probably thousands upon thousands.
Thank you. Gratitude was an important part of Jessie’s life up until the end. Isn’t it something that, in the midst of her suffering, she said thank you. In this season of Thanksgiving, it is true that we have a lot to be thankful for. Sometimes it is hard work to be thankful, to find the blessing in a mess. But it is there. I asked myself, what was Jessie saying thank you for? And who was she addressing? I initially thought that maybe she was thanking me for driving 10 minutes to visit her. Maybe she was thanking her family and me that we were all gathered around her, joined in hand and in heart and in prayer. Maybe she was thankful for the love that filled the room. Maybe she was thankful for the Sacrament of the Sick that I had given her, a sacrament that we know from Scripture has the power to save us. Maybe those words of thank you were addressed to God, a way of saying thank you for a wonderful life, a life filled with blessings—many of which started in 1962 when she married Michelangelo, or years earlier when the two of them were in fourth grade together (she was in the smart row, he was in the dumb row). Maybe she was thinking about that when she said thank you, or maybe she was thinking about the birth of her children, or maybe about the days of working the stocks. More likely, she was saying thank you for it all.
The only last thing I want to mention is this. A few weeks ago, at Sunday Mass, we heard some interesting words from Jesus. He told us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away.” In another reading that day, we heard that our names are written in that word, that we who are a part of Christ are part of the everlasting word. Everything else, says Jesus, everything else passes away. Our pains, our tears, our sorrows, our triumphs and successes, our jobs and popularity, our fights and struggles, our angers and bitternesses, our favorite foods and travels—it all passes away. Our earthy bodies pass away, even planet earth will pass away. I find it interesting that Jesus says, even heaven will pass away. The only thing that doesn’t is God. I have a feeling that, when it came time for Jessie’s final breaths, she didn’t want anything on earth, she didn’t even want some heavenly reward. She wanted God alone, the only thing that doesn’t pass away. And that, that has been given to her. For that we say Amen. Thank you.