Eternal Rest grant unto her O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul rest in peace.
Many years ago a poor, young girl went to her local parish to sign up for religious education classes so she could receive her First Holy Communion. Much to her disappointment, she was turned away; they had no chair for her to sit in. She wanted to receive Communion so much that her father offered to bring a chair to the class every week for her to sit in. But the answer was still no. This little girl had a burning desire in her heart to receive our Lord in the Eucharist, and she never stopped searching for a way. Several years later, with the help of some very generous Carmelite Sisters consecrated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, that young girl found Christ in the Eucharist. That little girl, Mary Kolacovich, known to us as Mary, Mom, Grandma Mary, and Baba, searched for the Lord and found him. And that’s what our Gospel reading and Baba’s life example call us to do, too.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that our Gospel passage about finding the child Jesus in the Temple is an unusual choice for a funeral. There is a method to my madness, though. You see, Baba had a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother. She was named after Mary, and that wonderful experience with the Carmelite Sisters gave her a particular devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Baba prayed the rosary, and she had several icons of the Blessed Mother around her house, including the one depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe that we've placed up here in the sanctuary. And we can’t forget “Big Mary,” the 3 foot statue of the Blessed Mother that always stood in a prominent place in her homes. Madge and I think it actually depicts another saint, but it was the Blessed Mother to Baba, and that’s all that matters.
Baba’s devotion to the Blessed Mother was much deeper than just statues, pictures or rosary beads. She shared with the Blessed Mother what Pope Benedict XVI called “a journeying faith, a faith that is repeatedly shrouded in darkness and has to mature by persevering through the darkness.” Like the Blessed Mother in our Gospel passage, Baba searched for Jesus and found him, but she didn't always understand him. Even with such remarkable faith as a child, there was a time in Baba’s life when she wasn't a regular church-goer. And let’s face it, she didn't always hold things quietly in her heart either; she could be tough and loud when she wasn't happy. I think the first words I learned in Croatian were “Ti si mali vrag!” – “You’re a little devil!” Now I'd like to ask Madge, Joseph and Richard, what your mother would have done to you if you had stayed behind in Jerusalem like Jesus did and she had to come looking for you? You would've been kneeling on rice for a week, wouldn't you? Were any of you smart enough to sweep the rice aside when she wasn't looking?
But as our second reading tells us, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Baba may not have always understood Jesus’ teaching, but like the Blessed Mother, “she [kept] it in her heart and allow[ed] it to mature by persevering through the darkness.” She returned to the Church, to this Church, which played such an important role in her faith journey. She and Grandpa Joe could always be counted on to bring up the gifts for the Eucharist, and now they stand together again before the Lord’s table. Father Steve tells me that Baba still kept in touch with this parish even after moving to El Paso some 20 years ago, writing letters, sending contributions and buying raffle tickets. She was very proud of her Croatian heritage and very proud of her Catholic faith. This Church brought the two together, and it gave her great joy. So on behalf of Mary’s family, I say to you, Father, and to this Church family, hvala lijepa for being the wonderful faith community that you are. Baba referred to you as “her people.” She also referred to Mexicans as “her people,” but we never understood that one. Baba’s faith journey continued in El Paso, where she was a faithful communicant at Our Lady of Peace Church. On Sunday, you could always find her sitting in the second or third row near the choir to hear Madge sing or chatting in the Narthex after Mass with anyone who’d listen. Sometimes you’d find her chatting in Church during Mass with anyone who’d listen too.
Baba matured in her faith and mellowed with age. In her golden years, she became very gentle and full of grace, unless you happened to be standing between her and the buffet table at the Golden Corral. Of course, she had her gripes and complaints, we all do, but she loved life and she loved her family and friends, two sure signs that the love of Christ burned brightly in her heart. She loved music; she loved to talk. She loved to dance; she loved to talk. She loved Richard Gere and Goran Višnjić (the Croatian actor from the TV show ER). She loved to eat out and bring home the leftovers; and she loved to talk. But most of all, she loved us.
╬ She loved us by always remembering our birthdays, by writing us letters and calling us on the phone;
╬ She loved us by telling us stories that made us laugh until we wet our pants, whether she meant to be funny or not;
╬ She loved us by teaching us to be generous to others by the example of her charitable works;
╬ She loved us by baking us banana bread, povitica and, my favorite, apple cake;
╬ She loved us by pretending to be afraid of a plastic snake over, and over and over again, just to make her great grandchildren laugh; and
╬ She loved us by keeping us in her heart and praying for us, all the time.
By turning to the Blessed Mother as her role model, Baba became a great role model of love for us. There’s a lesson in her life for all of us. She sought the Lord, and she found him. What a blessing it has been to have her in our lives.
You know, there’s another reason I chose this Gospel reading for the funeral this morning. This passage was the assigned Gospel reading for Mass on June 8, the day Baba died. Baba died on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, her patroness, who is depicted in the beautiful stained glass window in the center to your left. If she had to leave us, I couldn't think of a more fitting day. On the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Church celebrates the interior life of the Blessed Mother: her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and above all, her maternal love for her son Jesus and her compassionate love for all persons. Because Baba tried so hard to imitate the Blessed Mother’s love for Christ and for all of us, we can take great comfort in the words of our first reading: the “Lord will be [her] light forever, and [she] will grieve no more.”
Baba, thank you for your faith. Thank you for your love. We will keep you in our hearts forever.