A Funeral Sermon, “Life’s Puzzle”

Poetic Life Leaves (at the beginning of Mass)

thIn this early fall season, she has left us…or wait? Has she left us or has she left us with all kind of leaves to continue our “coloring?” Because the leaves from trees are just like our lives. We all know that leaves change color through time. Each color calls us to a new direction, a new perspective, a new challenge. And the tree, by the way, is our Creator God, the root of our lives. Our colorful leaves are green, yellow and gold. (I see them changing colors on my front porch while I wrote.)

God’s planted the tree of life, and we, the leaves, slowly grow as spring begins. The leaves grow to be a deep green because that is the beginning of life with all it’s adventures…and misadventures. Maturity’s yellow becomes your new leave’s color because it’s the ambition and excitement of both love and work and that lead you to a good job as a nurse, therapist and a loving husband and then discovering another loving partner. (We all should all be so lucky!)

So many years pass and that yellow leave gladly or reluctantly yields itself to life’s golden color of gold but still preserving life’s hope which often can change to melancholy in the later years. The gold of admiring the real version of TV’s fictitious show, “Eight is Enough.” (Almost had a baseball team!) And how many prayers of good wishes and goodwill were sent God’s way for her children, grandchildren, and friends.

Gold. It’s called the standard. Gold, the senior years of cherished memories, travel, grandchildren and church involvement. It’s also the total reflective time on a life worthy of God’s creation. God gave us green to begin with, and we humbly and faithfully turn God’s gift to gold. God smiles upon our changing colors as age ages us on. God accepted us at the beginning of our lives but embraces us through all the rest of it.

God both embraced and embraces her (past and present) – through all of her greens of growing up, all of her professional yellowings with a growing family, loving spouses and in professionally helping and assisting others on their changing colors. I used past and present for “embrace” because God embraced her through all the trials and successes of her life’s adventure and now (presently) embraces her with her reward. (I hate the word “reward” because it tells us that we somehow earn what was never ours in the first place.) God now welcomes and embraces her – complete with her all frailties and shortcomings (stuff that we all have), her welcoming smiles and all her successes. “Frailties” are now forgotten by us but offered up to God, the “welcomes” and “successes” are the enduring memories that will live in our hearts this day and every day afterward.

I didn’t know her, but she seemed to enjoy my preaching, she had good taste, but I must turn now to a real preacher and the poetry Petula Clark,

“So you can color my world with sunshine yellow each day
Oh, you can color my world with happiness all the way
Just take the green from the grass and the blue from the sky up above
And if you color my world, just paint it with your love
Just color my world.”

Sermon, following the Gospel

You reply to your friend, “I’m puzzled by what you just said.” Puzzled, meaning that the pieces don’t fit together. The thought was not clearly stated as a puzzled is neatly assembled.

Well, welcome to the adventure we call life. Unlike a picture puzzle, life has a way of unraveling, boredom, surprises, setbacks, and successes. And as Christians, we meld all of life together as a faithful response to the life we call a “gift from God.”

Funerals are always a time for review of someone’s life. Not judging but gently weighing the life one led. Today we offer up her completed puzzle to our loving Creator. We offer her life in gratitude, thanksgiving and in humility.

I like the image of a puzzle because it’s the way we figured life should be lived; precisely and perfectly brought together. Everything about our lives ought to be neatly assembled and then when completed, gazed upon with happiness and satisfaction. Yet, we all know that life has its own twists and turns. Sometimes in life, we even try to push pieces together as though pushing will help but two puzzle pieces just will not fit together. When those pieces just don’t fit they are life’s hardships, but Alice never chose bitter. During assembling you may even discover an important piece is missing. You look under the table, check the puzzle box, but it’s nowhere to be found. The puzzle has a missing piece. It happens to us all at different times in our lives.

The missing piece is never retrieved, and we learn to live without it. That’s when we cue Frank Sinatra as he sings, “That’s Life.” You haven’t lived if you’d never been all of them: “a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king.” How about adding to the list her interests as “snowblower” and “auto mechanic?”

How many puzzled faces entered her office searching to reassemble a piece of their life’s puzzle? Or, to find that missing piece? And, if she were good, I’d suspect she’d wouldn’t tell them how or why but guide them to that missing piece or pieces.

Today, family, friends, interests, and activities are all puzzled together for us about Alice’s life.

St. Paul says, “We look not to what is seen but to what unseen…what is unseen is eternal.” I think putting together the blue sky in a puzzle is the most difficult because it’s all the same color. Only the size of the pieces differ. I’d call the blue sky our search for God and spirituality. We look upward for answers when only questions are raised. We look upward for a blueprint when only clues are provided to us. We look upward for consolation and guidance, and we do find it – especially in family and friends who show us the face of God. During her life, how was she able to reflect God’s goodness, patience, and protection? You know, sometimes when we can’t find that missing piece we find in another person. That significant person can connect us when we couldn’t connect it  ourselves. (I think that’s call marriage or a good friendship.) We take the yoke of Jesus upon our shoulders whenever we connect with someone – whether her children, neighbor, friends or parishioners. (I was told that I couldn’t mention the importance of family enough. It’s the bedrock of our human existence and the image of Church that keeps us gathering together. Often the missing puzzle piece in families is the quality of mercy, the Pope’s favorite word. Reassembling our family’s puzzle only occurs when the humble expression of forgiveness and mercy is offered after strong disagreements or arguments.

This may sound corny, but I believe it in faith. The completed puzzle happens right now in her new life with God. All the pieces of her life’s puzzle were given to her at her baptism, how many years ago. She put together and connected as best she could – sometimes failing (welcome to the human race!) and other times hitting the mark on the head (that’s called God’s grace living within us.)

At Alexian Village where I worked for many years, there’s a public table with puzzle pieces strewed around. Anyone walking by can take a chance with a piece here and there. I think that’s the influence of other people in our lives. Advice, whether misguided or honest is offered to us, but we ultimately live our lives alone. She seemed to allow mistakes to happen in her children so they would learn for themselves life’s right decisions. Not bad advice for young parents these days.

Her life’s picture puzzle is now complete with God’s welcoming embrace. “Behold, I make all things new again,” St. John tells us, Jesus is “the beginning and the end.” To those who remain may we continue to assemble bits and pieces of our lives as best we can. Let’s all keep trying.

And let’s keep looking for that missing piece. It’s got to be around here, somewhere.

Real Leaves but not read at the funeral

Dark green leaves bring you to life. Your mom tells you that you’re a snowflake, unique and unequal to anything or to anyone. You boast of this to yourself and others for many years, carrying that snowflake fallacy. You find yourself now turning a soft yellow and still living with your aging parents with a part-time job that you don’t like. The rich gold color arrives, but you find yourself empty – your parents are now gone, and you live with your girlfriend of fifteen years. Gold turns quickly to brown, and you discover that she’s left you for a guy with a full-time job and you are now all alone. You make an appointment to see her to figure out this “snowflake” thing but skipped it instead and stop at a bar. You move into a 55-plus apartment where bologna and jello are the main entree, and there’s Bingo at 7:00 p.m.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

 

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About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). www.Salvatorians.com. He is associate pastor of partnering parishes, Christ King and St. Bernard parishes in Wauwatosa, WI.
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