May 15, 2004
© Fr. Brian Cavanaugh, TOR
It is such honor and privilege to have been asked by the Gentile family to preach this morning…The lines from a hymn keep repeating in my head: The battle is over, the victory is won.
Nina’s eight-year battle with cancer is now over. Her times of suffering are no more. She has completed the final steps in her journey.
In this liturgy of final commendation, we gather in tribute and respect to celebrate the life of Nina DiScipio Gentile.
I’m reminded of a story titled "Little Parable for Mothers"(Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement: 100 Stories of Hope, Humor & Healing, # 4)
The young mother set her foot on the path of life. "Is the way long?" she asked. Her Guide said, "Yes, and the way is hard. But the end will be better than the beginning."
The young mother was happy, and she would not believe that anything could be better than these years. So she played with her children, and gathered flowers for them along the way. The sun shone on them and life was good, and the young mother exclaimed, "Nothing will ever be lovelier than this."
Then night came, and tempests tossed. The path was dark, and the children shook with fear and cold. The mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle, and the children said, "Mother, we are not afraid, for you are near, and no harm can come to us." And the mother cried, "This is better than the brightness of the day, for I have taught my children courage."
Morning came and there was a hill ahead. The children climbed and grew weary, but at all times she exhorted the children, "A little patience and we are there." So the children climbed, and when they had reached the top they said, "We could not have done it without you, Mother." The mother, when she lay down that night, looked up at the stars and said, "This is a better day than the last for my children have learned fortitude in the face of harshness."
The next day brought strange clouds which darkened the earth—clouds of war, of hate and of evil. The children groped and stumbled, and the mother shouted, "Look up! Lift your eyes to the Light." The children looked up and above the clouds they saw an Everlasting Glory. It guided them and brought them beyond the darkness. And that night the mother got down on her knees and prayed, "This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children my God."
The days went on, and the weeks and months and years and the mother grew old. She was tired and bone weary. Her children were now tall and strong and walked with faith and courage. And when the way was hard, they helped their mother; when the way was tough, they lifted her and carried her. At last they came to a hill and beyond the hill they could see a shiny road and golden gates opened wide.
The mother said, "I’ve reached the end of my journey. And now I know that the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone, and their children after them."
The children replied, "You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the golden gates."
They stood and watched their mother as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her. And they said to each other, "We cannot see her, but she is with us still. A mother like ours is more than a memory. She is a living presence."Yes, Nina is more than a memory…Her living presence brightly shines within the lives of her children: Bob, Anita, Rita and Tom; within the lives of their spouses and within all her grand babies, who brought such joy to her, especially during the hard times of chemotherapy.
But all that is possible only because of a very special love for and from her husband, Tony—and what a special love story they had.
For 61 years their love for one another burned bright spreading its warmth to all those near them.…and more than 69 if you count all the years of hitchhiking Tony did from Youngstown.
Their love is more than a memory but a living presence.
Nina’s granddaughter Ann Marie told me about a woman she'd met at the funeral home Thursday night. The woman said Nina was such an incredible woman. She had only met Nina once but that Nina had made such an impression on her.
As we look around this morning, we see so many people in whose lives Nina made an impression, and we fully understand what that woman meant by an incredible woman.
Last Sunday, after I heard that Nina’s journey had turned finally toward those golden gates, I jotted down a thought that came to mind: What was the defining character of Nina’s legacy? The answer was so clearly evident—Family.
Her legacy reminded me about a woman who approached Mother Teresa and asked, "Mother, how can I help you?" Mother Teresa turned toward the woman and said, "Love your family."
As well, Mother Teresa frequently repeated a phrase that says so much about the life of Nina:
It is not how much we do,
but how much love we put in the doing.
It is not how much we give,
but how much love we put in the giving.
How Nina’s life could best be summed up in that line—how much love she put in the doing and the giving.We heard in the second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish.
Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger, it does not brood over injury.
Love does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.
Love never fails.…There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, love, and the greatest of these is love.
Yes, each of us has our own unique and special Nina memories of how much love she brought into each of our lives. But have you ever noticed in life how often sorrow and joy are linked so closely together? They are like two sides of the same coin! With tears in our eyes we celebrate in joy what the early Christians would call Nina’s "birthday into eternal life."
We live in such a death-denying culture that without faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, without the hope of eternal life, our lives would be so empty, so hopeless.
Pearl S. Buck once observed that "we learn as much from sorrow as from joy, as much from illness as from health, as much from handicap as from advantage—and, indeed, perhaps more…"
Today, we gather with the Gentile family as a People of Hope, an extended family filled with Easter Faith, to learn much more. We celebrate our belief in Jesus' Resurrection and His promise that through our own baptism each of us also will share in His resurrection. Death is not the end of life’s journey, but a passing over through the golden gates into a greater existence, a fuller and more perfect life in God. Yes, today we sorrow but not without joy; we mourn but not without hope.
We, also, heard in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom (3:1–4), "The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. 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 in peace.…their hope full of immortality." Today, we remember…and, yes, there are some regrets…but still we rejoice! We rejoice for Nina’s journey through life.
And, somehow, as we look at death, we are brought back to life…to our own life’s journey—seeing where we’ve been, where we are now, and seeing where we might be headed. In a way, death forces each of us to come to terms with the sense of meaning and purpose for our own life. Somehow death wakes us up to life!
Nina now has gone on ahead of us through those golden gates…but still, she is more than a memory, she is a living presence, who has made a lasting impression on each one of us.Now, I come from a large Irish family and we have our godfathers too. Uncle Bud was our family’s, and, literally, was my godfather. You have to understand that Uncle Bud was never shy about sharing his opinions with you (kinda like Bob), but he also was hard of hearing which meant he usually shouted his opinion at you.
One day he calls me shouting into phone, "Brian, you need a card (he also frequently just started in the middle of a conversation). You need to include a poem with your Mass cards to give people some comfort."
I said that I didn’t have such a poem, as yet, but now that he mentioned it one would come to me soon, and one did. I just had the poem printed as a card when I got the call that Aunt Lillian was dying, Uncle Bud’s wife. So the first card I gave was to Uncle Bud and it has become a family favorite for funerals.
Tony, Bob, Anita, Rita, Tom, all the Gentile family and friends, I’d like to share that poem now with you:(source unknown)
Gone to Rest a Little While
Fill not your hearts with pain and sorrow,May Jesus Christ give to each of you at this time and for each day…
but remember me in every tomorrow.
Remember the joy, the laughter, the smiles,
I’ve only gone to rest a little while.
Although my leaving causes pain and grief,
my going has eased my hurt and given me relief.
So dry your eyes and remember me,
not as I am now, but as I used to be.
Because, I will remember you all and look on with a smile.
Understand, in your hearts, I’ve only gone to rest a little while.
As long as I have the love of each of you,
I can live my life in the hearts of all of you.
His consoling peace in your soul,
His abiding presence in your heart, and
His empowering Spirit in your life.
And the people of God all said, Amen
Gentile Family Remembrance
In memory of a woman who was the definition of love,
of strength, of courage, of humility.
A woman with unbridled compassion for others,
a woman of true grace.
A loving wife, mother, grandmother,
great-grandmother and devoted friend.
Away from all pain, in beauty, she can now rest.
Her legacy is family.
What she would want you to remember is that
whomever you make your family, be true to them and
do whatever it takes to show them your love.
It comforts our family to know that
she touched so many lives and that her legacy
will live on in each of you.
Thank you for your love, care and concern
especially over the past eight years—
We will never forget.
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