I wouldn’t trade anything for being a member of a big Catholic family, or having godparents who have had a similarly large family. Because of the number of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, I understandably couldn’t participate in person for my godmother’s recent funeral, given coronavirus guidelines. But our solidarity in our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church was otherwise affirmed and facilitated well online, and I look forward to the memorial Mass when we all get together once the pandemic subsides.
Ed and Eileen Murphy were close friends of my Mom and Dad as young Catholic couples in the Motor City, and thus, in 1962, I was blessed to have them become my godparents. Both in my childhood and my adult life, Uncle Ed and Aunt Eileen were faithful witnesses, exuding a joyful serenity that edified many. Their impact was evident on their nine children, including their older twin sons—Mike and Pat—with whom I was blessed to play Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) football at St. Mary of Redford Grade School in Detroit.
Mike and Pat were two years older than I, the same age as my sister Patricia, and they were both leaders on our undefeated 1973 football team, part of a CYO dynasty that recorded 29 consecutive wins over more than four years. Mike was the quarterback and Pat played end, and they exhibited their leadership both on the field and in the school.
In addition, Aunt Eileen had an indomitable spirit that exemplified that she knew the God about whom she spoke and in whose providence she trusted. She gave personal testimony to that trust, when Uncle Ed preceded her in death almost thirty years ago, and then, some years later, having to endure a mother’s worst trial when her son John, one of the younger twins, preceded her in death through an unexpected illness.
She also shared that spirit for twenty years in serving as a secretary in a local Catholic hospital’s pastoral care department, and then for 16 more as a volunteer at a nearby Catholic hospice.
In her most recent years, Aunt Eileen endured dementia, and so her family, to whom she had given so much over so many years, got to return the lessons in love she had given them. She experienced firsthand what my Mom and Dad did as well—that children and grandchildren are “the greatest retirement policy.”
Because of the way Aunt Eileen lived her life, I was heartened that Father Charles Fox chose the First Reading at her funeral from the Book of Wisdom (3:1-9), as it’s one of my favorites and I think captures well the strong faith with which my godmother lived and died:
For if to others, indeed, they seem punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself (Wisdom 3:4-6).
Thus, while I have and will continue to pray for the repose of Aunt Eileen’s soul, there is consolation amidst the sorrow of her death, because, since she was a faithful disciple, we can have confidence in Christ she has gone home to the Lord (see CCC 1030-32).
A key to my godmother’s holiness was her frequent participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, receiving our Eucharistic Lord on a regular basis. Consequently, it was also fitting that Father Fox chose the heart of the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 for the Gospel Reading, in which Jesus proclaims,
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (Jn 6:54-55)
My godmother “staked her life on it,” Father Fox said, referring to the reality of Christ’s Resurrection and his associated Real Presence in the Eucharist. Because of this, Father Fox said, the virtue of Christian hope is not a mere human desire that something will happen or be true, but “an assurance, a knowledge” that the Lord Jesus can and will deliver on all of his promises.
In this light, Father Fox asked a question that is worthy of self-reflection for all Catholics, both during the Easter season and throughout our respective lives. Regarding our loved ones like my Aunt Eileen, he asked, do we have “admiration” of who they were and how they lived, or do we pay greater tribute through “imitation,” “doing what they did” and “being centered on Christ as they did it”? This is the perennial question we must all ask in remembering and honoring the faithful departed.
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