By Rev. Isaiah Teichert, OSB Cam (’78)
I am Rosie’s uncle and godfather, which is why I have the privilege, out of this army of priests, to be the one doing the preaching at this funeral.
One of the memories I cherish about Rosie revolves around a Teichert family custom. When my family was growing up, my dad would give each of us a blessing before we went to bed. He would put his hand on our head and he would bless us with these words:
Dear God, please bless, for example, Henry. Give him a good night’s rest and a good day tomorrow. May he be closer to you tomorrow than he is tonight.
It was a tender custom, and he always used the same words of blessing. When my sister Rose began having a family of her own, she continued that custom and would often bless her children and bless them in the same way:
Dear God, please bless Rosie. Give her a good night’s rest and a good day tomorrow. May she be closer to you tomorrow than she is tonight.
Well, once little Rosie, when she was very small, banged her thumb, and her mom came and looked at it. It seemed OK, but Rosie said it still hurt a lot. So her mom encouraged her to pray for the thumb, and immediately Rosie held out her hand and said:
Dear God, please bless this thumb. Give it a good night’s rest and a good day tomorrow. May it be closer to you tomorrow than it is tonight.
A perfectly good prayer. Rosie had made the tradition her own.
And talking of tradition and family customs, we have a special birthday tradition in my family that was great fun. We got this from the Waldorf School, where they told us that, in Germany on a person’s birthday, they would put you in a chair and sing to you a special song, Hoch Soll Sie Leben, meaning “high may you live.” And then after each verse of the song they would lift you into the air, each time a little higher. Drei mal hoch! Three times high. And up you went. It got to be very exciting, each time a little higher, and sometimes the birthday person wondered if he was taking his life in his hands, and would he come down right side up?
Anyway, the day Rosie was born, the very day she was born, I remember being in the hospital and admiring her in her crib. And her siblings wanted to do the Hoch Soll Sie Leben song. This was Rosie’s birthday, after all. Why shouldn’t we do it? So her dad — a wonderfully accommodating father — put her on a pillow, and we gathered around the pillow and very gently did a version of Hoch Soll Sie Leben, probably the gentlest Hoch Soll Sie Leben on record. It all fit with the Feast of the Ascension. Rosie was born on that feast, and her middle name is Ascensión.
We lifted Rosie up with great love, and that’s what we are called to do today as well: Lift Rosie again — again with great love.
We have been praying so hard for Rosie these last couple of years, hoping for a healing. Cardinal Newman was the main one we asked to intercede for her, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that Rosie died on the anniversary of Newman’s Beatification — a kind of love tap from him, it seemed to me. Half the country was praying for Rosie, praying for her, offering so many Rosaries, asking Our Lady to pray for us now and at the hour of our death. This whole last month has seemed like the hour of Rosie’s death, from the time when we got the news from the doctor that she would die very soon. And yet, what a fullness of life there has been in this hour of her death.
I came down to visit the family and to say a Mass for Rosie, and I was expecting to find a very somber atmosphere at her household. But instead the house was full of song and laughter. Her nephews and nieces were playing everywhere, and every half hour it seemed like the doorbell would ring and someone would be bringing flowers. Siblings were massaging Rosie’s feet and reading to her, and there was a sing-along party when an army of relatives arrived and raised the roof with their singing. And Rosie joined in. She was a gracious hostess, attending to her visitors, and she was full of good humor till the end. She said at one point, “I need help carrying my cross. Maybe if I go online I can find a gadget to help me carry my cross — carryyourcross.com.”
Her good cheer reminded me of a line from a poet Rosie loved, Christopher Fry. He says:
We should be like stars now that it’s dark:
Use ourselves up to the last bright dregs
And vanish in the morning. Shall we not
Suffer as wittily as we can?
In the Gospel we heard today, the sisters of Lazarus appeal to Jesus with the words, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When I was at Lourdes many years ago, I remember hearing that prayer often during the public prayers of healing. Lord, the one You love is sick. But the response of Jesus is strange, isn’t it? He is the healer, the great healer, and Lazarus is known to be His particular friend. Why doesn’t He rush to heal him? The Gospel specifically points out that He waits two days before going to Lazarus — waits two days, even knowing that his friend is desperately ill. It’s that unfathomable timing of God.
When Jesus gets news that Lazarus is actually dead, that is when He decides to go to him. First He seems to wait too long; then he goes to Lazarus when there doesn’t seem to be any point in going — that mysterious timing of God.
It can feel profoundly disappointing. And you sense that profound disappointment in the response of Mary and Martha. You can hear it in their first words to Jesus when He arrives on the scene: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” We sent you the message. We gave You plenty of time to come down here, and You didn’t — and this is one of your friends. We are your friends, and you weren’t there for us.
But of course, being a friend of Jesus does not mean you will escape suffering. One of the clearest things in the message of Jesus is that His followers will suffer. Even His mother and father do not escape intense suffering. But the Gospel hope is that, with Jesus, suffering has meaning. With Jesus, suffering has transformative power. And every suffering is meant to end in resurrection.
But back to the Lazarus story. Notice that Martha, while she may be disappointed, is not giving up on Jesus. First she says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then she goes on to say, “But even now, I know God will give You whatever You ask.”
Jesus says to her: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” And she says, “Yes. I believe. I trust.” She has come to believe. It has been a growing faith and trust. She has come to know Jesus over the years, learned to rely on Him, learned that He can be utterly trusted, even in the face of death itself.
But she is powerless at this point. Mary and Martha were both powerless, and so are we all in the face of death. Lazarus is the embodiment of powerlessness in the story. What can be more powerless than a man in a tomb, tightly wrapped in a shroud, dead for days? That is why Jesus raises him, to show the amazing power of God over death itself, and over our own powerlessness. To bring us the power that comes from the Spirit, the power that comes from the breath of God, breathing through us again.
So, if you feel powerless or hopeless or discouraged today, let the hope of this gospel dawn on you. Once again, maybe for the thousandth time, say to the Lord, “I believe, I trust in you.” We, of course, need to make that act of faith, not just once, but again and again, renew it, over and over, like a commitment to a vocation.
Lazarus is certainly powerless in the story. Mary and Martha are powerless in their own way. And all of them, I think , teach us something about what to do when we feel powerless. We are to listen for the voice of the Lord, calling us out of our darkness. The Psalmist says, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Do not harden your hearts if you hear the Lord calling you out of your darkness: Lazarus come out, Isaiah come out! The Gospel is telling us that in the Christian life, in our walk of faith, when we get into situations, when we are alone in the dark, in the cold, in what appears to be the place of death, and there is a large stone blocking the only way out, and it doesn’t look like there is anything that can be done, we are not to despair, never to despair. Listen for that voice of the Lord which calls to you in your darkness, calls you out of your darkness, a voice of power, calling you from death to life, raising you up. It is a voice we pray and hope Rosie heard loud and clear.
While she was dying, one of the things Rosie expressed was the sadness, and a longing, about never having married. Her brother began praying that she experience Christ as the Bridegroom, that she feel all the joy of Christ the Bridegroom coming to meet her. We can join that prayer, too. Come Lord, be like the bright sun, like the Bridegroom coming from his tent. Rosie, the King desires your beauty.
Rev. Isaiah Teichert, OSB Cam (’78) is the Guestmaster and Vocation Director at Immaculate Heart Hermitage in Big Sur, Calif.
Posted: October 1, 2013
Slideshow: The funeral of Rosie Grimm (’10)
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