Remembering Catie

Below are the homily from our Pastor Fr. Snyder and the thoughts that Christine and I shared at Catie’s funeral mass.


29 JANUARY 2009


Allow me to begin by assuring you, Christine and Kevin, and your family, of the prayerful support of the parish family of Saint Joseph. You have been parishioners here for a relatively short time. But in that time your presence has had a significant impact on all of us.

First of all, you outnumber most of our families! But more importantly, your deep faith and generous spirit has encouraged all of us in our own faith journeys through life. On more than one occasion someone has asked me: who is that beautiful family that usually sits on the right side of the church? And their question was always motivated by a deep respect for you, Kevin and Christine, as parents, and by a profound admiration for you, Max, Margaret Mary, Theresa Marie, Marie Bernadette, and you Mary Elizabeth.

It is an honor for us to lead you and to be with you today in prayer.

We call the Lord Jesus by many names; we use many titles to identify who he is for us. Sometimes he is Lord and Savior; sometimes he is brother and friend. Sometimes he is the Good Shepherd; sometimes we call him the Son of God and Son of David. There is no one title that completely captures who Jesus is. We need all of those titles to help us to grow in appreciation of Jesus’ identity how he draws us closer to the love of his heavenly Father.

Today, as we gather in faith and sadness, in hope and confusion, I think that this is the title that I need to remember: Jesus is our TEACHER. And as out teacher, he wants us to grow in wisdom, age and grace as he did in his home at Nazareth as he prepared to be about his Father’s business.

As a teacher, Jesus was not some starry-eyed optimist, seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. No, Jesus was a realist. He knew the truth of our human condition because he himself lived it; being born in our human likeness, to teach us how live – not as angels, but as people, created in God’s image and likeness.

All throughout his public ministry Jesus wanted those who followed him to know what that following would entail. He resisted all those who came to him expecting instant success, guaranteed acceptance and a carefree existence. No, Jesus was bold enough, honest enough, to say to those who walked the hillsides of Galilee with him, that they would share with him not only the glory of the mountain of the transfiguration, but also the sadness of the hill of Calvary.

And although that teaching was difficult, disconcerting, Jesus said he would not abandon his disciples to the vale of tears that sometimes punctuate our life sentence. No, he said that he would walk with us, and at times carry us: come to me all you who are burdened and find life difficult, he said. Learn from me, the teacher tells us: for my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

What did Jesus mean?

Well, this I think. Because this is not yet heaven at times this life’s burdens are difficult and filled with disappointment and sadness. But when we take on the yoke of Jesus, when we allow ourselves to be held together and directed by his truth; when we choose to live in faith and not in fear; when we decide to follow the way of understanding and peace rather than the way of bitterness and resentment, then, and only then, will we know a peace that the world does not know; a peace that the world can not give; a peace that only God can give.

Jesus knew that at times we would have reason to cry just as he cried with the death of his beloved Lazarus. But he taught us by example that we will not drown in our sorrows, but rather be lifted up and continue to swim the muddy waters of life because we have been baptized in waters that promise life eternal, not the waters of this life that are passing away.

That is why we are here today. Jesus the Teacher calls us here, to hear the wisdom of his word and to share the bread of life. We live by a standard not explained by human wisdom, but a standard that is guided by heavenly wisdom.

On one occasion long ago Jesus the teacher taught his disciples just as he teaches us today, that that wisdom is usually not understood by those seasoned with years of intense living. No, that wisdom is usually best understood by God’s little ones, unsullied by raw living but rather pure of heart, with a loving trust that is able to take Jesus at his word.

I refer again, as I did at our prayer service on Monday afternoon, to that first beautiful stained glass window on the left side of the church. One day people were bringing their children to Jesus to have him touch them and the disciples were scolding them for this. And Jesus said, no let the children come to me and do not hinder them. It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

Today that kingdom belongs to Catie, because she listened in the quiet of her pure heart, to the voice of Jesus the Teacher. And in a trusting way that puts most of us to shame, she KNEW in her heart what we adults too often try to figure out in our heads, the truth that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.

At the tender age of seven, Catie taught us all what it means to trust in Jesus. Because she lived her life following a heart joined to the sacred heart of Jesus. Most of the time we adults go about life being analytical and rational. We scratch our heads and say what’s it all about? She, on the other hand, rubbed her heart and taught us what it is all about: being true to who we are as children of a Father who made us, a Father who loves us, a Father whose only desire is that all of his children sit at his table in his heavenly kingdom where there is a place for everyone.

It is interesting to me, and comforting to me, that once Catie received her first Holy Communion at Christmas, she was ready for God’s table in heaven. And I know she learned that from you, Christine and Kevin, for in your home, your family gathered around your table is an extension of this table in this church that is God’s altar where we receive Jesus, bread for the journey.

At Christmas we celebrate Mary giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. The name Bethlehem means “house of God’s bread”. How appropriate that on Christmas Catie received Jesus, the bread of life eternal in the Eucharist for the first time. And that is why it is appropriate that we gather around God’s table to receive that same Jesus to guide us on our life’s journey. When our words fail, Jesus, THE WORD of the Father, prevails and calms our fears and sheds his gentle light on the shadows of our days.

I have been asking myself these days: what is it that makes Catie so attractive to us; what is it that allowed her to steal our hearts? Her infectious smile? Maybe. Her weakened condition? Maybe. But I think we found Catie irresistible because she loved being a kid. She loved being who she was. She loved her family and friends. She loved music. She loved her cell phone. She loved who she was. And in that loving brought us together and challenged us to be who we are: people capable of coming out of ourselves for a time and living for another. Catie brought us together and will continue to bring us together when we learn from her: when we love who we are as God’s children, shaming the world by laughing in the face of disappointment and even death, because our citizenship is in heaven.

When Catie traveled to France she needed a passport. At her baptism she received a passport for another journey, a journey to heaven where she would be free to cross the boundaries of this life and enter the kingdom that is heaven.

She was born at 8 months, a little early. And while the loss we feel tells us that she died a little early, a little too soon, the faith we share tells us that her life is not ended, she just got to where we all hope to be ahead of us, and is now ready to welcome us to our Father’s house when our traveling days are done.

Catie died on the feast of St. Paul the Apostle. At the end of his days Paul said: I have fought the good fight. I have run the race. And now I cross the finish line to receive the crown won for me by Jesus suffering, death and resurrection.

Catie, more than any of us, has fought the good fight. She has run the race. And now she has crossed the finish line claiming as her own Jesus’ victory over sin and fear and death.

In the days and weeks and months ahead we will cry. But through our tears we will look at that window and remember that Catie tugs on the hem of Jesus’ robe and smiles that irresistible smile that unlocks the door of his heart, and leads him to say the words we all long to hear at the end of life’s journey: my child, everything I have is yours.

As I stand before you today, I remember the last time I stood before many of you last September and expressed our thanks for all you have done for us and for Catie. At that time, I held Catie in my arms as I spoke with you. Today, she holds me in her arms. I ask her to help me deliver her message to each of you. For months now, we have all been praying for Catie. We have prayed for a miracle, and there have been many. We have prayed for her comfort and joy, and she was blessed with that through your prayers. We have prayed for her strength, and she had that throughout this journey. Thank you for all of the prayers for her. Today however, we change the focus of our prayers. We no longer need to pray for Catie. She sits right now in the presence of God, healed of her cancer, fully restored, and loosed of any impediments that blocked the joy that was a constant wellspring from her soul. She needs nothing from us for she is with her Father in heaven. She is playing with her sister Gianna, and with kids she has known from St. Judes who have preceded her like Konley who passed away last Friday. She is watched by her Grandma Gladys, Mom-Mom Helen, GP and many others who have welcomed her home. No, today, we do not pray for Catie, today, we begin to pray to Catie. We pray to her to assist us in our sorrow. We pray to her to help us to live out her legacy. We pray to her to keep us from forgetting all that we promised as we asked God to help her. And true to her wish to be a patron of pediatric illness, we pray to her to intercede on behalf of all the kids who are still here battling their diseases. We pray to her to inspire researchers to find cures and improve treatments so that in her death, others may find life.

There is a final exam to get into heaven, and Jesus sums it up when He says, “when I was hungry, you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, sick and imprisoned and you visited me, naked and you clothed me.” And they said to Him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or sick or naked,” and He told them, “I assure you whenever you did it for these least of mine, you did it for me.” I have heard and read that story hundreds of times and have always put myself in the position of those on Jesus’ right or left. Never before did I focus on the “least of mine”. Someone had to play the role of the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick person so that we all had an opportunity to serve. Catie accepted lovingly and without complaint the cross of humility. She allowed herself to participate in the suffering of Christ and be available for ministering so that we could all pass the test. She and her circumstances allowed hundreds if not thousands to feed the hungry, (the fab 5 are a ravenous bunch), clothe the naked, (the fab 5 keep growing and need new clothes), and visit the sick and imprisoned. She suffered so that all of us could get to heaven and join her there. Catie’s aunt KC shared a thought that she had as she reflected on Catie’s passing. Catie fell into a deep sleep on Friday afternoon at 3pm and was delivered to eternal life just before dawn on Sunday morning. Jesus spent those same hours in the tomb.

As we deal with Catie’s death, it is the little things that are proving to be the most difficult. As we scan a crowded room and count heads, we count to five now instead of six. As Christine folds laundry, clothes end up in different piles, not because kids keep growing but because we are down a person. Throwing out Catie’s toothbrush caused unexpected tears. There is a void in our home as well as our hearts, and we will feel it from time to time, and then will chastise ourselves when in time we don’t feel it. That is how it is when you lose someone. The more important they were, the greater the vacuum when they are gone.

Solace comes from knowing that Catie has run the race and completed the journey that God set before her. As parents, we accept children lovingly from God knowing that God sends them to us and charges us with the responsibility of teaching them about Him so that they know Him, love Him, and serve Him. Catie just finished the race before we did. There is an exchange at the end of Les Mis that sums up Catie’s life for me. To love another person is to see the face of God. Catie’s face as she finished her journey on this earth and went home was God’s own visage, and I was honored to be in God’s presence through her.

Like all parents, we had dreams for Catie as we do for the fab 5. I dreamt of one day walking her down the aisle dressed in white and presenting her to her husband who would promise to love her as I have. Today, I have that opportunity. Today, she is a bride of Christ, dressed in white and participating completely in the wedding feast of the lamb. Maggie, Mia, Molly, M.E., the men you bring home to ask for our blessing will have a tough act to follow.

We want to thank each of you for being a part of our family. For listening to our needs and tending to them, for keeping vigil with us as we traveled along the road that God had prepared for Catie. This community is amazing in its support, and we are eternally grateful. Fr. Snyder, Fr. Fred, Sr. Michael Ann, you shepherd an amazing flock that reflects the love and generosity that exists in your hearts, thank you. Catie’s story does not end here, but begins anew, and is carried forward by each of us as we leave this church. Her life, which meant so much to all of us, is now an eternal life. Thank you all for sending her home.

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