The older we become, the more funerals we attend, so for many of us the words in Paul’s letter to Timothy this weekend will sound familiar. Grandparents, parents, relatives and friends have been buried to the words “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” What a blessing our spiritual ancestors are both in keeping and passing on the faith.
When I was very little, I spent a lot of time with my elderly Aunt Emily. She was kind and gentle, but when something bothered her, she would become very feisty. She taught me how to talk to God! When Aunt Emily had an issue with God, she did not pray, she talked to him! My grandmother gave me my first rosary and taught me what each bead meant. Grandma also discouraged me from using my rosary as a fashion accessory. My first grade teacher, Sr. Mary Parxedes, rewarded us with holy cards. How I treasured those lace-trimmed pictures, usually accompanied by Sr. Parxedes’ story of the saint’s life. Sister could be quite graphic at times, so by the end of first grade I was pretty sure I didn’t want to grow up to be a martyr.
I am sure many people come to mind who have taught you the ways of faith. Besides those in our immediate family circles, there is the communion of saints with a patron saint for just about any job or condition. Often they have been given that honor because of personal struggles endured in their own lives. These spiritual ancestors not only act as our intercessors, but they can teach us how to live a blessed life in the midst of adversity. We have the writers of the sacred Scriptures. We have wonderful books, poems, prayers, hymns and works of spiritual art that connect us with people of faith, back to the very time of Jesus. For almost 200 years, voices have been raised with Ignaz Franz’s “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.” For over seven centuries we have echoed the words of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace…” and when we gather for liturgy we are renewed by the third century words of Hippolytus of Rome, “…with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name…”
When you come to church this weekend take time to remember your spiritual ancestors, but also look a couple of pews over. Sprinkled in every parish community are the elderly. Some people well into their 90’s who have to deal failing eye sight, loss of hearing, frail health and steps that are unsteady. They are there, faithfully among us, Sunday after Sunday. Others are in their residence fingering rosary beads and offering their prayers for all in need. Let us keep these people, our living spiritual legacy, in our prayers and kind actions until that day when they (and we) can say “I have competed well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.