A couple of years ago, I lost a good friend. She used to come to my house and paint with my kids, and dance Irish jigs in my kitchen. She was one of the most faithful women I have ever met, and I still feel I can see her sitting in her normal pew, scolding me for something foolish I said, or telling me I should have been more clear. She was a real spitfire, and I love her still. I had the pleasure of giving the homily for her funeral, and I have no doubt she was scolding me still.
I realize this is an older homily, but I was looking at a painting she did for me, and I got to thinking about her. I thought sharing that homily might be a fitting way to tell her I miss her.
Homily for Nancy
I need to apologize, I am going to preach longer today then normal. I need to pay Nancy back for all the talking she did to me. Now I know she can listen without interrupting.
I have a painting in my house from an evening where she came over to teach my daughters how to paint. She whipped up a landscape that is one of my favorites, but she didn’t feel it was very good, and she refused to sign it. Instead, she signed it, Ireland. I think that is how many people knew her, the little Irish lady who sat in the back over there by the pillar. She was not that to me, if fact, she was one of the most important people in my life.
She was born in Ireland to a big family. She loved to tell stories of home, especially of her family. She would talk of her father, her brother who loved the violin, of walking to church – eyeing the protestants suspiciously, and most of all, of going to the dance hall. She loved music, especially jazz, and dreamed of life in America. She just knew they were having more fun on the other side of the Atlantic, and she wanted to be a part of it all. She moved to the east coast with family first, and then headed to the Bay Area. Working there, she met her husband. He was a merchant marine, and they moved here when he was stationed in Eureka. As a merchant marine, he would be gone for months at a time, and she was left alone here with no family or friends. So she made her own. That’s what Nancy does, she goes out, and makes her own everyone around her.
She would rarely talk about her husband. Even though it had been years, she kept his side of the bed in order for him, with a tin can full of coins he had kept from far off lands, and his watch that she always kept running. I remember she had this dog, now Nancy hated this dog, she would constantly talk about the pain in the butt this dog was, but it was her husband’s dog, so she would bring it with her everywhere. She would leave adoration to go out to her little white Geo and check on him, because she couldn’t bring herself to leave the dog at home alone. She loved and babied that dog to no end, a dog she hated. I think she never spoke of her husband, because she missed and loved him so much, and poured our her love for him on that dog.
Nancy was never alone. She would find someone who needed her, and she would attach her life to theirs. I was one of the lucky recipients of this blessed attention. She would come to my house late at night with paint, with projects for the kids, with dance music, and most of all, with her opinions. We would have the best of time dancing jigs in the kitchen, laughing and being rude to each other, talking about the Church, about her history, about the importance of holiness. She would leave bags of fruit on my doorstep, I think she thought I wasn’t feeding my kids enough.
All in all, Nancy was always about two things, and in this order: The importance of our Catholic Faith, and finding a community she could share it’s beauty with all the personality she had, whether they wanted it or not. She was cantankerous, she was in your face, she was challenging you to take your soul seriously, and she wasn’t going to skimp or water any of it down. She would challenge friends to pray more, to think about the hard issues more, and she would challenge the clergy even more. I don’t think a priest or deacon in Humboldt county hasn’t had a run in with Nancy Elgin. Things she felt should have said in a homily, how the homilies weren’t hard enough, or worried they were scared of preaching the hard issues. Nancy challenges everyone, and leaves no one out, but not without living it out herself. She practiced what she preached, she went to adoration every week, Mass nearly every day, prayed her rosary every night next to a pile of mail and a heater at her feet, filled her mind with solid teaching constantly through radio, TV and constant reading. Nancy took her soul very seriously, it was her whole life, and she challenged you to do the same.
I owe Nancy a debt, and I am going to pay it now. All she ever wanted from me was for me to be a voice that was willing to talk about the hard things, the things that no one wants to hear. For some reason, some truths make us uncomfortable, but Nancy was right to challenge us to talk about them, because we find happiness in the truth, in heroic virtue, not in deceiving ourselves with half truths and silence. I am so very sad that she never had the chance to hear me preach, I hope I give her honor.
So let me share a few things I believe in, that Nancy believes in, that the Church has always believed, and that you can’t count on as being true, and built your entire life on. I am with you on all these things. I need to take a lesson from Nancy as well as anyone, so in a very real way, I am preaching to myself today too, reminding myself of what I should be doing, and what is really important in this life.
As we read in the Gospel today, the Eucharist is Christ’s actual body and blood, soul and divinity. God himself is here for you. Do you take that seriously, or do you just pay Him passing notice? The God that created you, that gives you life and loves you enough to die for you is here, begging you to live with Him. Are you in a rush to leave Mass? Do you ever want to visit him and just be with him in adoration? Or do you think, meh, I’m a good Catholic, I go to Mass semi-regularly, what more do you want from me? He wants all of you, not pieces. He is worth your whole life, and anything less is not worthy of so great a redeemer.
Are you prepared to receive the God of the universe? Have you been to confession recently? I want to cry as I see people I know haven’t been to confession in years coming up to receive communion. When the apostle Paul saw this, he begged his people to get right with God, and told them their lack of seriousness about the Eucharist was the cause of all their grief, sickness and suffering. We need to be right with God before we even dare to take the God of the universe into ourselves. Are you using the same mouth you use to talk about other people behind their backs, the same mouth you use to unkind things to those you love, are you using that same mouth to receive the Lord? Go to confession, make a good confession, and go regularly. Nancy taught me to go every month, a practice I still have.
Life is precious, all life, but especially human life. God, in His endless goodness, has personally created every human being. When we dare to think we can kill other people because they are inconvenient, even if they are terribly inconvenient, we sin in the deepest way possible. When we kill defenseless children in the womb, when we abort a human child simply because we don’t want them, the angels cry. We have allowed our nation to perform the greatest holocaust in history, dwarfing even Hitler and Stalin’s death count to mere fractions. Our flag is drenched in the blood of children, and if we don’t allow our voices to join against this great evil, then we share in this massacre. If you don’t think about this grave evil when you vote because you are worried about economic issues, you might need to rethink what you value. The lives of our elderly are just as precious. Euthanasia is a real threat, and it’s legality is in danger of sweeping the nation. The lives of our predecessors are being put into the hands of doctors who do not know them, into the hands of family who see them as a burden, people who foolishly think that because they are old, they don’t have value and meaning to the world. Human beings are not burdens, they are the most precious of gifts, and we must protect the right to life at all moral costs.
What about your prayer life? Are your priorities centered on Jesus the Christ? Do you offer your day every morning the Lord, do you thank him every evening? Do you thank him for your meals, ask his blessing on your travels, stop to pray for those who come to mind? Do you pray when you hear an ambulance, or make the sign of the cross when you pass a church where Christ’s body is kept? Do you make time for others who cannot pay you back, do you give a portion of your income to the futherment of God’s kingdom on earth?
Do you pray the rosary? This is not some ancient tradition that Catholics used to do, this is one of the most powerful prayer tools of the Church, given to us by our Blessed Mother herself. I will promise you right now, that if you take this one prayer seriously, and pray it every day whether alone or with your family, that you will change the world. You will certainly change your world. If you hold onto these beads and never let go, dedicating yourself to this holy and reverent practice, heaven will be yours to behold. I do not risk my soul with this promise: Pray the rosary every day, and you will see heaven with your own eyes. It will transform you into the image of the Son. Pray it seriously, pray it reverently, pray it with all your heart and mind. Most of all, pray it every day.
Do you open your heart and life to those around you, or do you close yourself off to just your family? Do you know the names of those who sit around you at Mass, do you invite them to your home to pray together, to share life with them? Do you leave fruit at other’s doorsteps, just because you were thinking of them?
Lastly, I encourage you to never stop learning about our faith. I teach theology every day, and I am astounded by my lack of knowledge. I feel like a child picking through the wealth of the Church. Challenge yourself to read a bit of the Catechism every night, to tackle one Church document a month. Make it your daily practice to learn about the Saint of the day, or subscribe to the pope’s twitter feed! Immerse yourself in the royal velvet of the Church’s teaching. Wrap yourself up in it. It is inexhaustible. Sit down at the buffet, and became a glutton for truth, fill your body and mind with it. Listen to Catholic radio, watch EWTN, read great books, download them in audio form and listen in your car. Dedicate your body and mind to that which truly matters. Focus your life on becoming a Saint. Nothing else matters.
This was my Nancy. I suspect this was your Nancy as well. Do not let her voice die with her, keep her words to you in your heart. Let her challenge you again to take up your sword, and fight for your soul. Dedicate yourself anew to the Lord, learn to love Him more with each passing day. And also, dance in your kitchen. This life is a gift, and is meant to be full of life and laughter. That’s what Nancy taught me.
I want to close with this, because for me, it is easiest to remember the last thing said, so this is the most important thing. Pray the rosary for Nancy’s soul tonight, tomorrow, and as often as you can over the next few weeks. Make a novena of it. I can promise she prayed for your soul, we should return the favor. Take this holy responsibility seriously, pull out your rosary tonight, and pray for her. She deserves it, and we need to get back to praying it anyway.
God bless you Nancy. We love you.