Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why I missed the Latin class last night. I attended the wake of a saint.

Why I missed the Latin class last night.

A saintly woman at Holy Cross Church, Dolores Spada, died last Sunday at 75, and I attended her wake last night. I told Kevin (our Latin class teacher) that I would stay for the rosary and then come to Susan W's 1/2 hour late for the class, but then it seemed rude to get up and walk out in the middle of the tributes that followed the rosary. Besides, my car was blocked in the mortuary parking lot.

So I stayed and listened, sometimes a bit impatiently, and lingered afterwards to watch a video the family had prepared of family photos as a Christmas gift. One woman from the parish read a generic poem about how Dolores was now in the sunset and the waves and the breeze and would never die as long as she lives on in our hearts. A grandson read a more personal tribute, a poem that didn't quite scan but had lots of feeling. The same poem was printed on the back of a little program they handed out at the entrance to the viewing room along with a bag with a rosary in it for each, and a story of how much Dolores loved and believed in the rosary.

Here is the front of the little program:

The grandson said that relatives had been wondering what he was up to scribbling away during Dolores' last hours, but he met his goal to be able to read the poem to her before she died. t was called, "Almost Time to Dance," and looked forward to Dolores' first dance with her husband in heaven. I note these things merely as a record of how death is celebrated in our times, at least in this corner of the world, in northside San Jose CA.

Yesterday morning in Rollo's doughnut shop after 7:30 Mass across the street, I heard even the most hard-hearted little old lady in her group of friends had positive things to say about Dolores. The most apt was "She taught us how to live and she taught us how to die."

Dolores had cancer years ago and it recurred. The first time, her children were already grown, so when she learned that a younger woman with children at home got cancer too, she told the Lord she would offer herself so that the other woman might live. I don't know what happened to the younger woman, but Dolores had a long remission afterwards.

That first time and then when the cancer returned, Dolores offered up her sufferings in an old fashioned Catholic way for the good of others. But then joining one's sufferings with the sufferings of Christ for the good of the world is an intrinsic part of Catholic doctrine, although it is generally more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

It was a privilege to know her. She never gossiped or was unkind, even though she was surrounded by people who did and were. What amazes me most is that she seemed oblivious to the failings of her friends and family. That old unconditional love thing, she had it down pat. She also had a great devotion to Our Lady and said two rosaries a day.

One of her friends told me that at one point when she was dying, Dolores opened her eyes and said that she had seen the Blessed Virgin with a bouquet of roses. Our Lady was holding the hands of her two little sons who had died. They were waiting for her arrival.

Her five living children and many grandchildren, and great grandchildren were at the wake along with hundreds of others.

The California Tower of Babel experience I so often notice was in full effect. (Since English is a second language for many people around here, I often see people from different parts of the world speaking their own kind of English dialect at each other when they don't share the same dialect and hence don't understand hardly a word the other side is saying.) The biggest manifestation of the Babel phenomena occurred when the parochial vicar, a nice young Scalabrinian priest from Mexico, told the parishioners yesterday morning that the wake would be in the hall and waved towards the back of the church. I wondered why the wake was being held in the church hall, but one of the ladies told me he meant the mortuary, which is about 10 blocks away in the direction towards which he waved.

Not everyone understood. So, at 6:30 last night, the choir that sings at the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Mass (mostly Filipinos) was wandering around the parish hall wondering where everyone else was. When they finally figured out where the wake actually was located, they arrived late with their guitars. They sang On Eagle's Wings, I am the Bread of Life, Oh Lord my God and two abysmally bad renditions of Ave Maria. The distinctive Filipino "a" and "i" sounds were dominant throughout. Winging it without hymnals, the choir seemed to making up some of the words and they definitely made up many of the notes. Each of them seemed to create new arrangements as they went along

Dolores would not have criticized, maybe she would not have even noticed.

Every time I ran across Dolores the past year or two, I was relieved and delighted because at the end of each previous encounter, I had been afraid that meeting might be the last. She took all the treatments available, and she said would be happy as long as she could drive herself to daily Mass. When she could, she would join the ladies for coffee in the doughnut shop afterwards. She did the books and volunteered in the church office as long as she could too. Every time I saw her, I would hug her and kiss her and thank God for her still being around and smiling her cute smile. Now the time has come that I dreaded, and I won't be seeing her on this earth any more.

It did my heart an immeasurable amount of good to know her. We need saints because they show us glimpses of the goodness of God.

Love in Him,

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