Thursday, July 6, 2017

Give Me Jesus

The passing of time intensifies within us the tendency to romanticize the past and to become nostalgic  for a time that never really was. Today, however, I had the opportunity, in a sense, to travel back in time and to discover that the "good o'l days" were, in fact, just as good as I recall. 

This morning, I attended the funeral for a wonderful woman who lived across the street from the house where I grew up.  Despite the fact that every time I saw her over the years she would say, "Call me Simmy," she was always, "Mrs. Koch" to me. During summer evenings the adults would sit out on their porches and yell across the city streets to one another as dozens of neighborhood kids would play games until the street lights came on. Mr. and Mrs. Koch were kind of the patriarch and matriarch of the street, overseeing things from their second floor porch. They were a couple who raised their large family to become men and women who were dedicated to helping others. One of their sons is the mayor of our city now.  He still finds time to shovel my parents walkway when a winter storm comes.

Today at the funeral, Mrs. Koch had maybe a dozen concelebrating priests in the sanctuary and the pews of Sacred Heart Church in North Quincy (pronounced "Quinzee!) were packed. But what most struck me was not the numbers of people in the pews, but the faith that filled that church. Mrs. Koch had the funeral of a believer.  The priest who preached at her Funeral Mass was one of the priests who lived at that parish for decades.  Nearing eighty, he climbed the pulpit steps a bit more slowly than in the days when I was his altar boy.  Once he settled into that pulpit, however, out came the lion of yesteryear, his voice rising and lowering in a style of preaching quickly disappearing from the Catholic landscape. He was masterful in the pulpit . . . just as I recall him being decades ago. 

As he preached, I recalled the many other priests--some present at the Mass and others gone home to God--for whom I served as an altar boy. Before the Mass, one such priest reminded me of the different jobs that I worked in middle school and high school.  He's been gone from that parish for well over 25 years, but he remembered those things.  It reminded me that I grew up in a parish where the priests were close to the people. They knew one another. There was a friendship among the people there.

I ran into many people from my youth there. Many of them didn't recognize me. (I chalk that up to a decline in their eyesight rather than to my aging.)  But there they all were, people who have spent their lives together in that parish. Some have moved elsewhere, but for a moment, it was the old Sacred Heart again. These were the people who sang and danced in parish shows, the kids whom I'd spent weeks with hanging Christmas lights on all the exterior trees around the church when we were in high school. There was the charismatic prayer group of which Mrs. Koch was a leader. There were the people who reminded me that I was a brat as a kid and how I would torment the nuns in the school. 

At the end of the Mass, Mrs. Koch's son, Tommy (the mayor) spoke some words.  He began by saying that when his mother was dying, she told him that he better not use her eulogy to say, "She made great cookies."   He said, "I told her, don't worry, I won't. To be honest, your cookies weren't all that great."  He said that his mother would want him to talk about Jesus.  And that's the truth.  If all anyone had said about Mrs. Koch was that she was a believer, that would have been enough.  In the end, Mrs. Koch was a believer. She loved the Lord. She loved the Eucharist.  I always say that there can be no greater consolation to a family when a loved one dies than to know that the person for whom they mourn loved the Eucharist.  Jesus himself says that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life.  Everyone in that church today was consoled because none of us can give himself eternal life.  But, for the one who believes and loves the Lord, for the one who loves his Body and His Blood, we have the consolation of His promise. 

After Communion, some of the singers sang a song that I imagine was dear to Mrs. Koch. It simply repeated, "Give Me Jesus." "In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus." "When I am alone, give me Jesus." "When I come to die, give me Jesus."  "Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus. You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus."  Mrs. Koch loved Jesus. There can be no greater consolation to her family than that.  She wanted Jesus. 

I often tell the students who attend Mass at Boston University that their presence at Mass serves as a great witness to me.  You can have a big funeral, but if it isn't about Jesus, it doesn't much matter. What matters is Jesus. Only He is the Resurrection and the Life. Today, as I returned to my home parish and prayed for Mrs. Koch, I saw what happens when people live the Faith together down through the years. Faith means walking when it doesn't always seem so clear.  The church today was filled with people who did just that. They remained faithful over the decades, even when they didn't feel like being faithful. They remained faithful to their vows. They remained faithful to the Lord. They remained faithful to the Church. In the end, fidelity pays off. 

Mrs. Koch had many accomplishments in her life, but her greatest accomplishment was living her life as a faithful disciple of the Lord. If you want to live life well and if you want to end life well, then let your prayer be that of Mrs. Koch's, "Give Me Jesus."


  1. Beautiful telling of a beautiful life. Thank you for sharing your thoughts-it is good for all of us to hear.

  2. I agree. A beautiful life created by the Author of beauty. And thank you for clarifying the correct pronunciation of "Quincy." No one outside Eastern MA knows that it is NOT the same as the middle name of the President John Quincy Adams.