John and I recently went out for drinks with some of his high school classmates - they are celebrating their 20th reunion this year and have had several informal get-togethers. An outspoken now-lawyer from his class (who loves to tell stories) has a favorite phrase that kept coming up - "It's all good."
We both really liked this phrase and picked it up for our own. It reminded me of the passage from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans: "We know that all things work for good for those who love God." I think that's one of the most beautiful and comforting passages from the Bible. I've been thinking about it a lot over the past few weeks. The last few days have brought it to mind in a striking way.
I drove with several friends on the night of All Saints Day to the funeral of the four year old son of a mutual friend who died quite suddenly last weekend. He had the stomach flu and suffocated during the night. When he went to sleep their daughter (I think she's under two years old) said "I'm going to miss Sammy, but God will take care of him." The same day Sammy died, his mother stood up as a confirmation sponsor. Wow.
"It's all good" and the passage from Romans both came up in conversation on the way there - everyone was wondering how someone could handle such a loss. We didn't realize until afterwards how much this funeral was a blessing for us - other moms who had never felt such loss, who really can't understand what it's like, but are nevertheless hurting for the family and for the painful reminder that we're not really in control. One of the first things I noticed as I paged through the program before Mass, was that the passage from Romans "We know that all things work for good for those who love God." was chosen as one of the readings. This was a family who had always turned to God and in their greatest sorrow God responded with abundant grace. We thought we were there to comfort and support the family, but grace and selflessness prevailed in a truly awesome way - they were also there to comfort us and to let us know how God was helping them and what a gift Sammy's life was to them.
It's really hard to describe what an overwhelming experience attending this funeral was. I'd have to say that it was a privilege to be there, it was a comfort to be there, it was good to be there, though there was not a dry eye in the place (I was certainly clinging to my kleenex the whole time). I've since talked to a number of others who were there and they had similar reactions. Sammy's Mom is a very out-going faith-filled woman and her presence there was so very genuine. At the funeral she was there to say goodbye to Sammy, but that she was also there to praise God for Sammy's life. I've never seen anything like it. It was particularly hard for her when they closed the casket. There were a lot of tears and hugs, but then she called out from the pew "Thank you, Jesus, for Sammy's life!" God's grace was shining in her and it was an incredible witness of His love.
The Mass was so beautiful. The sermon brought tears, but also much comfort. Father started by saying, "Would that we were here for any other reason than this." This was not what any of us wanted. Sammy will be sorely missed and grieved. The pain must be incredible and I can't imagine how hard it is for his four siblings. Father went on to share anecdotes about Sammy and to tie in themes of the Body of Christ and God's sacrifice of His only Son to redeem the world. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we were particularly struck by the story of Sammy's request for his birthday cake on his 4th birthday - about a month before he died. He wanted a picture of Jesus on his cake and the words "Jesus and Me 4+Ever". Father concluded the sermon with a comparison to Samuel of the Old Testament being called by God during the night and Samuel responding "Here I am Lord."
I had never seen in quite this way how comforting and healing the funeral mass can be. My friend and I saw Sammy's Mom very briefly afterwards and what she said to us (through more hugs and tears, of course) was "God is doing such wonderful things with Sammy's life!"
To me, God made abundantly clear through Sammy and his family that passage from Romans:
"We know that all things work for good for those who love God."
I've just heard that the Paypal donation link for this family through the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Home Educators will be running through the end of the week.