This is the homily I preached at the funeral of my mother-in-law at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland on December 16.
“Love never fails.”
A few moments ago, Siobhain shared those words with us from St. Paul, and his famous letter to the Corinthians.
The last time I heard that reading in this church was 12 years ago, at the Mass celebrating Gerry and Brenda’s 50th wedding anniversary. When we were selecting the readings for today, I wanted us to hear those words again.
First, because they capture something of Brenda and her spirit. A spirit of tenderness and generosity and good will.
But also: because these words tell us something we need to remember this morning.
More than a lesson in how we are to love one another, Paul’s letter reminds us of how God loves us. In our grief, our pain, he does not abandon us. His love is patient. It is kind. It bears all things. Hopes all things.
Our faith tells us that death does not have the last word — love does.
“Love never fails.”
Love, of course, is also at the heart of the Gospel reading, from Matthew, The Beatitudes. And that is really what I want us to reflect on this morning as we remember Brenda.
Pope Benedict has said the Beatitudes are really Jesus offering us a self-portrait — and with that, a model for those who follow him. Here is who and what we are called to be.
So many of us, of course, fall short.
But I don’t know anyone who took those words of Jesus more personally and lived them more deeply than Brenda Meyer. In her life, they were more than Beatitudes. They were “Brenda-attitudes” — a way of living, a way of loving.
I speak from experience.
Brenda was a fixture in my life for more than 40 years. She was actually in my life longer than my own mother. And she loved me as her own son. I remain profoundly grateful for that — and for the gift she brought into my world: Siobhain.
You know, a word we hear again and again in this reading is “Blessed.” This morning, I won’t presume to call Brenda a saint.
But I will call her “blessed.”
She fit the description — poor in spirit…meek…merciful…clean of heart.
Above all, a peacemaker.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”
Here was, truly, a child of God.
Brenda’s early life, of course, was not peaceful. She grew up in a family broken by alcoholism and divorce. But she helped raise her sisters and support her mother and then embarked on her own life’s journey — a journey marked by much gentleness and joy.
How often did we hear her say, in the middle of family feud — and in this big Irish family, believe it or not, there were a few! — how often did she say, “I just want peace.”
Brenda Meyer was an instrument of peace.
She was an instrument of harmony — in every sense of the word.
One of my favorite memories of Brenda was from about 15 years ago. After retiring — and at a time in her life when she could have been sitting on a beach, sipping daiquiris — she did two remarkable things.
First, she went back to college and got her bachelor’s degree.
And then she set out to learn how to play the piano.
She bought a small piano and set it up downstairs in the house on Greenlane Court and started taking classes. After several months, she took part in a recital. We went to Rockville, to Montgomery Community College for the performance. There were a dozen or so other students who played that day.
Then it was Brenda’s turn.
She sat down nervously at the piano, took a breath, and started on Brahms’ Lullabye. But after a moment, she made a mistake. And then another. And then another. And every time she hit the wrong key, she flinched and tightened her fists and silently swore at herself.
But most importantly: she kept playing. Note by note. And she bravely made her way to the end and a big ovation.
It was a lesson in music — and in life. Whatever happens, keep playing.
Keep playing. Through the discord. Through the mistakes. Through the setbacks. Even if you lose your way.
The notes may not be perfect.
But the music goes on.
The most important music she ever played, the composition of a lifetime, was one that lasted more than 62 years, her duet with Gerry. Truly, the love of her life. I heard her call him a lot of names over the years — “Gerry, GF, Meyer.” But every name was a valentine. To her, he was Clark Gable, Robert Redford, Cary Grant and Sean Connery. He was her prince, her knight, her hero — and the collaborator in her great work, Brenda Meyer’s Opus: her family.
Of course, marrying Gerry meant marrying into the Meyer tribe, and also marrying into the tribe of Notre Dame alumna, the “Domers.” It was a life of long car trips and big football games and class reunions, all to keep up with the Fighting Irish.
Brenda didn’t have a Notre Dame diploma. I don’t think she ever took a class there. But she had the DNA. And she had the heritage — her grandmother was an Irish immigrant who got off the boat at Ellis Island and opened a liquor store in the Bronx. Brenda came from tough stock.
Deep in her bones, to the last hour of her life, Brenda was one of the fighting Irish.
Notre Dame was a big part of her life. Brenda offered a lot of prayers, and made a lot of memories, at the school whose name means “Our Lady.” So it seems fitting that she went home during Advent, the season of Our Lady, the season of Mary, a time of watching and waiting and preparing for Christmas.
It also seems fitting that she ended her earthly journey on the Vigil of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I like to think that was Our Lady’s gift to a devoted daughter.
Last week, a priest at my parish in New York offered his prayers — and a perspective. “I know this is hard,” he said, “but who are we to deny those we love a glimpse of paradise?”
One of the pictures I posted on Facebook shows Brenda looking into the face of one of her great-grandchildren, trying — without success — to get him to smile on the day of his baptism.
Well, our prayer today is that the woman who marveled at the face of a newborn child is today gazing at the face of God.
This morning, we pray for her and with her and hope that she is praying for us.
Especially for her beloved family.
The day Brenda died, Maeve sent a text and said that Brenda’s great legacy is her children.
That’s true. I look around this church this morning and see it. And it is a wonder. Her children. Their children. And THEIR children.
Brenda’s music goes on. What a beautiful song it is.
But a greater legacy is something even more beautiful — a singular gift that we need to honor from this day forward, something we need to bring into the world, just as she did.
It’s right here in Matthew’s Gospel. Brenda and her legacy will live on if we carry in our hearts the Beatitudes, the “Brenda-attitudes” — if we seek to live as she did in our broken, aching world.
Throughout her life, Brenda carried this message with her everywhere. From New York to Kentucky … from Potomac to Ghana … from Ocean Pines to South Bend and beyond.
And her message is this: Bring peace. Offer hope. Give to those in need, hold close those who are in pain.
Keep playing, even when you lose your way and the notes are wrong. Listen for life’s music.
And love. Above all else, love.
Because love never fails.