This is Janet,the lovely woman with her arms around her loved ones, and two of her children, Kathy and Billy and a dear friend. They, and son, Henry, and a large living room room full of dear friends have gathered to celebrate Mass. Janet loves the Eucharist and she attended daily Mass at the local parish and Sunday Mass with friends Ellen and Jack McNally at another parish. Yet Janet did more than attend Mass, she lived serving others. Pastor Judy Beaumont and I met Janet as part of the local Call To Action group, a progressive group within the Roman Catholic Church. Janet, who is a mother of four and a proud grandmother, has several advanced degrees and a life of service. This includes Government service with several certificates of recognition and serving through the church. She joined our ministry of serving the homeless a hot meal in the park in 2007. She cooked, brought the food and stayed and served the people. She also gave clothing and other needed articles. Our people grew to love her and pray for her always.
Over the years she continued to assist in our ministry to the homeless even as she battled cancer. She went into remission for seven years and nothing held her back from her daily Mass devotions and serving others. In the past few months Janet learned that her cancer had returned and advanced. She and her Doctors and family looked at her options. With the faith of one whose eyes are on God, Janet refused further cancer treatment and is now preparing to go home to God. Janet and her family freely use the word “dying” but there is so much life within her. Going home is clearly the way she sees it, and the way it is. How blessed it is to be able to go home.
Janet followed Christ in traditional ways and yet with her open mind and heart embraced the women priest movement. She attended my Ordination in Massachussetts with her son Henry and years later she attended Judy Beaumont’s ordination in Florida. A woman of conviction, she accepted and was pleased that there were now women priests within her beloved Roman Catholic Church. Eternally optimistic, she believed that some day women priests would be able to take their rightful place in the church, right beside their brother priests. She believes this to be a possibility with Pope Francis. And so, when we learned that she would dearly love to attend Mass again though she was not able to leave her home we responded. She was delighted and able to participate fully, planning hymns and music. Her neighbor and friend Bert was there to play the violin. What ensued was one of the most spiritual and meaningful Masses we have ever attended or presided in.
Below is Pastor Judy Beaumont and Bert who played Ave Maria and other pieces including Danny Boy and an Adagio so beautifully on his violin that Janet closed her eyes and took herself home as we were all transported with her. Janet reclined for much of the Mass yet received strength to stand at several points.
We celebrated the Rite of Anointing within Mass, greeting and receiving Janet and her family and friends.
We began in the beautiful words of the Rite: ” We have come together to celebrate the sacraments of anointing and Eucharist. Christ is always present when we gather in Christ’s name….Christ taught his disciples to be a community of love…” Today we are in a wonderful community of love as Janet’s love for all of you and your love for Janet reflects God’s love for us in Christ and in one another. Through this Eucharist and anointing we invoke God’s love and power poured out on Janet and all here today.
In the Opening Prayer we asked that all who share in Christ’s suffering find in these sacraments a source of fresh courage and eternal life. We asked God to take Janet and this family and group of loved ones under God’s care knowing our physical and spiritual needs.
The first reading in the Liturgy of Word was read by Janet’s son Billy. Job 19;23-27:”….But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives…whom I myself shall see: my own eyes, not another’s shall behold God. And from my flesh I shall see God;my inmost being is consumed with longing.” Janet nodded her head with every word.
The Psalm in response was Psalm 27. The Refrain was “Put your hope in God;take courage and be strong.” Each one present said this directly to Janet and she made eye contact with each and sat up tall in her strength.
The Gospel was John 6: 35-40. ”I am the bread of life…and I will raise you up on the last day”. Janet beamed. Those gathered sang the hymn Bread of Life with the chorus “And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, I will raise you up on the last day”. The bread of life is the central devotion of Janet’s spirituality and the promise is very real to her now.
I began the homily claiming this promise for and with Janet. I spoke briefly of Janet’s devotion to the Eucharist and to serving God’s people then I asked that each one who desired to do so speak a word to Janet. All present spoke a word. A word praising the quality of her friendship, her out spoken-ness, her courage, her many accomplishments, including her hole in one in July,and her selfless service to the poor and all people. When her children spoke,choking back tears or letting them fall, Janet got up, walked to them and hugged each one. As one friend summed up “the kind of mother Janet was is evident here today.” Her daughter Kathy thanked her for including them in her preparations to go home to God. Each of the children said how pleased they were to be here with her and to share in this moment. Janet responded with love for all and with sharing how the most special thing in her life was to be able to serve the Holy Eucharist as a Eucharistic Minister. She was so happy now to have her women priests serve her and to accept the Eucharist becoming one with Christ. Love surrounded her and all of us in these holy moments. Then all stretched out their hands in blessing as she was anointed with oil, and most certainly with the love of all present.
When the sign of peace was given Janet, miraculously, got up and hugged all present.
We served Janet first. As Janet stood to receive the Holy Eucharist, with the words “You are the body of Christ” You are the blood of Christ” it was as if both the suffering and the triumphant, risen Christ stood before us. Her blue eyes shined like the sun and she smiled broadly, at peace and in anticipation of the eternal feast of love prepared for her. All present felt comfortable to receive at our hands except one person whom we blessed. Indeed all present were blessed, including the two priests, with the thanksgiving, the eucharist that Janet had requested for them.
This most profound celebration of Mass was ended with Janet herself singing a stanza of “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” and another Marian hymn. She was indeed a reflection of the holy mother and God indwelling in us, around us and with us. How blessed we are to have Janet with us and to walk Janet home.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, ARCWP
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community