A soul is not something that is given us; it’s something that’s formed. Lately, I’ve taken to looking at who and what helped shape me. What lives and incidents, love and bitternesses, inspirations and sins have helped mold the complex mix of sin and redemption that I am? One of the significant good persons that God put into my life was an aunt of mine, my Aunt Katie. She died this month and we gathered and said goodbye. She deserved more than we gave her – a short obituary, a large funeral, the regular compliments, a last liturgy, but these had to be true to her life and so were modest. God will give her the rest.
Her obituary will attract little attention. There’s nothing extraordinary in it. Like millions of others like herself, women who raise a family, suffer through hard times and bad health, and then die unnoticed by the world at large, there is nothing on the surface to attract attention. Her obituary describes her well:
“Catherine was an active CWL member. She also served the community by assisting with Christian ethics at the local school. For many years, she was involved in home care and enjoyed looking after the elderly in their homes. “Catherine loved her home and family. She enjoyed cooking and baking. Anyone who dropped in was treated to coffee and goodies, and you couldn’t leave until you had tasted one of each. She was especially gifted in handicrafts and sewing. All her children’s homes reflect her talent, in many quilts and crocheted items and handcrafted articles. Christmas morning was always a special treat with parcels of the newest hand-made goodies. Not only her children and grandchildren but her many friends and relatives received many of these items. She was a happy person with a great sense of humor. She enjoyed her life despite her many illnesses and will be missed by all of us.”
Nobody reading this obituary would think such a person extraordinary, as spiritually gifted. Yet she was one of those persons to whom one might safely have entrusted the fate of the world. Her gifts were not the kind that history usually records; certainly not Western history, which never uses words like “goodies” and “handcrafts.” Her life never made a huge noise. Her success was merely her life itself. There she succeeded splendidly, living and dying without bitterness despite hard times and more than enough occasion for frustration. Her family, her relatives, her friends and her parish community were her only trophies. We were her crown of glory and her crown of thorns, often bringing pride or tears to her eyes. To us, she brought her gifts, a deep faith, an extraordinary insight into Providence, a rare moral fibre, a warm compassion, and a talent for humor and teasing. Her life struck others as gentle, as having a peaceful rhythm to it.
There was reason. She was a contemplative, she talked to God in private. That was her secret, her centre. From that centre, she challenged and teased and understood us. Her life was hardly charmed. There was poverty, drought, bad crops, the ’30s, six kids to bear and raise, and a small Saskatchewan farm with too many rocks and too much work. For years, her life revolved around her stove, her kitchen table, her garden and her parish community. Always there was work to do, and she learned the rare art of celebrating within it. And in all of that, in the countless tedious hours of weeding gardens and picking berries, of cooking and cleaning, of canning vegetables and baking bread, of washing clothes and mending them, of feeding kids and going to church, of making do with bad health and bad crops, there was always the smile, the humor, the teasing, the concern about others. Always, too, there was hospitality and an open door. She fed, charmed, teased, humored and challenged whoever crossed her threshold. Like Jesus, she enjoyed table fellowship and good conversation.
She believed in the seamless garment, no loopholes or sabbaticals within religion and morality. And the anchor of it all, the centre that held it all together, was her faith. For her, there were no accidents, there was no fate, no luck, good or bad. There was only divine Providence, God’s finger. Everything, good or bad, was part of a conspiracy of accidents to bring about God’s will. If the crops were good and there was prosperity, God was blessing us. If drought or hail or bad luck left us with less, then this was another kind of blessing from God.
Some years before she died, the unity and charity within the parish community of which she was a part was torn by a bitter fight over an issue to do with the local school. In the middle of all the anger and dissension, their church burned down. Her interpretation was that of Abraham: “There, now, we have a signal from God that we have to stop fighting and get along!”
She died this month, without headlines, a widow in a small town, one of God’s little ones. But her life wasn’t small. She blessed many and helped shape souls. In God’s hidden plan, God’s bigger plan, she played an important role. A life like hers is a word from God.
Catherine R. (1915-1986), mother, grandmother, aunt, friend of many, parish member, minister of Christ’s hospitality and compassion, RIP. You fought a good fight.