Thursday, February 12, 2015

Evangelized by Love: Saying Goodbye after 68 Years of Marriage

This morning, I attended a funeral at the parish where I was assigned for thirteen years.  For all of those thirteen years, the front pew at the 7am Mass was occupied by Henry and Phyllis Sullivan.  In an age when rational argumentation does not always seem to be particularly persuasive in winning people over to the Gospel and to the Church, people like Henry and Phyllis are all the more vital.  Truth to be told, however, I doubt that Henry and Phyllis would ever have considered themselves to be evangelists or anything special for that matter.  But for me, when you look at Henry and Phyllis, you are confronted with the truth about marriage, love, faith, the sacraments, the Gospel, the Church . . . everything that matters.  Henry's and Phyllis' just don't happen by coincidence and they are not just the result of good genes.  They are the result of grace.  Let me tell you a bit about them.

I learned today that they met at a dance and began courting one another.  Their courtship, however, was interrupted when Henry shipped out with the Navy on the USS Sullivan (also his last name) to serve in the Second World War.  When he came home, they wed and began their family.  I only met them much later in their life, in their retirement.  Every day of their retirement began in the front pew of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Beverly.  When I first came to the parish, they would travel south for the winter, but at a certain point, age made it impossible for them to travel anymore.  I told them that I was happy that they couldn't leave for the winter anymore because I missed them too much when they were gone.  

One thing that was clear when you looked at Henry and Phyllis is that they absolutely loved one another.  I mean they had love written all over their faces.  A few years ago, Phyllis was ill and couldn't come to Mass so I stopped by to visit them.  When I visited their apartment, Henry was out for a moment and hadn't brought his keys with him.  So, in the middle of my conversation with Phyllis, there was a knock at the door.  Phyllis went to the door and said, "You can only come in if you're handsome."  She opened the door, looked at Henry, and said, "Well, you can definitely come in."  They loved each other.

Today, having spent 68 years loving, honoring, and cherishing his bride, Henry sat in his pew without her.  There was nobody in that church who probably ever remembered Henry and Phyllis not being together.  Phyllis was 93 when the Lord called her home.  The present pastor of the parish gave a beautiful homily about Phyllis, but it was impossible for him to speak of her without speaking of Henry.  Truly, the two had become one.  Their love--a love shaped and bonded by the Sacrament of Marriage--defined who they were as persons.  

Why should we devoutly receive the sacraments?  Why is marriage about a man and a woman in a life-long union, open to new life?  Why is Faith important?  Why are the marriage vows important?  Why is forgiveness, mercy, and charity important?  What's the value of daily Mass?  There are excellent arguments to defend and explain all of these things.  But, those who attended daily Mass at St. Mary's all of these years didn't need those arguments.  In the front pew was Phyllis and her husband of 68 years.  When you look at them, you are compelled to say, "Everything that the Catholic Church teaches is true!"  

I feel confident in saying that the world needs more Henry's and Phyllis'.  I am confident in saying that because I know that I need more Henry and Phyllis'.  When the Lord sent out his disciples, he sent them two by two.  I've always thought that the reason the Lord did this is so that others could see the way that the two disciples loved one another and this love would be attractive and convincing.  Henry and Phyllis' love was attractive and convincing.  I needed to come out of the sacristy every morning and see them there together in their pew.  Their witness was a daily proclamation of God's love.  It would take a violent act of one's will to look at them and deny the power of grace and the beauty of the Gospel.  Their beautiful witness and example points all of us to what is possible when we live the life of grace.  The Catholic life--the truly Catholic life--is what it's all about.  

None of us, as I said, can really think about Henry without thinking about Phyllis.  Seeing Henry there without the love of his life at his side was heartbreaking for all of us.  But, Henry is a man of Faith.  He knows that--like all of us--he too will be called to the House of the Father.  When he knocks upon the door of the Father's House, I've no doubt that from the inside, a beautiful woman with a twinkle in her eye and a magnificent smile will say, "You can only come in if you're handsome."  

Thanks Henry and Phyllis.

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful reflection on faith, love and a life lived well. I especially liked the insight about the disciples being sent out two by two to demonstrate love. Thank you.