Last week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took part in the Washington National Opera’s production of “Daughter of the Regiment.” A devotee of the opera, the Justice was hailed for a fine job in her cameo appearance. Reading about this happy and peculiarly DC moment I thought, “Wouldn’t that be fun?” This week, the Lord gave me an opportunity to take part in a much more moving human drama, a story of tragedy and triumph: the funeral of a parishioner, Maurice Hawkins.
Maurice was a regular at St. Peter, Capitol Hill. For a significant time he was homeless, and though I never knew details, it was obvious he had some sort of learning disability. Years ago, the Pastor of St. Peter’s, Fr. Michael O’Sullivan, helped Maurice to find decent housing and support. Nonetheless, as for many who’ve experienced homelessness, Maurice’s life seemed to be an ongoing series of assaults: medical problems, people trying to scam him, etc. But this beautiful simple man found his peace and his joy in something beyond the world’s many attempts to bring him down. Maurice knew that he was loved by Jesus Christ, and he loved Christ in return. His limited learning became perhaps his greatest asset as he lived without guile, giving himself completely to the love of Jesus.
Maurice prayed daily, helped out around the church grounds as best he could, and always had a smily greeting for his neighbor. Two of Maurice’s habits struck a special chord in my own heart: Each week, Maurice brought random articles to the parish priests to be blessed… rosaries, clippings from the newspaper, discarded toys, even bits of string. Strange as it may have seemed, I actually found this quite beautiful. In a St. Francis sort of way, Maurice always seemed concerned about bringing more blessing into the world. The second of Maurice’s habits that really touched me was his weekly request for holy water. Curious, I asked him why he always needed holy water. He answered, “…because I never know when I may die. I want to have the Lord’s blessing always.”
When Maurice died a few weeks ago, the community at St. Peter swung into action to prepare for his funeral. Many people chipped in to cover expenses. The body was treated with the utmost care, being brought to a proper place of burial at Gate of Heaven Cemetery. The church was fuller than I’ve seen for many funerals, and the music would make any priest envious for the same when his time comes. His life was a human drama of – dare I say it – “Biblical” proportions marked by struggle, tragedy, and -at least to earthly eyes- futility… but for those of us who, like Maurice, see with eyes of faith… this story is really about the triumph of Jesus’ love for us. It’s not often that I say this about the deceased, but Maurice’s holiness was imminently clear. He who suffered so much in this life and loved throughout will surely rest in peace. We should all be so blessed.
For further reflection, consider this Gospel passage, chosen for Maurice’s funeral (Lk 16:19-ff):
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house,
for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”