Dear Diary... We buried Mary C. Shepston a few days ago. She was 94 years young. She taught school for 25 years and lived meagerly on a small pension. Her obituary notice attracted none of her former students.

No one sent flowers. Her passing was hardly noticed. She had no family locally to mourn her passing. She had outlived them all. She had no friends. She had outlived them all, too. She was a loner in her later years. Her only outing was to the corner grocery and church on Sundays.

"It's sad—no one to mourn her passing," several people suggested to me knowing that I would be celebrating her funeral mass. She had made all the arrangements in 1989 to make sure that she "had a Catholic funeral." Her only request was that the rosary be recited before the funeral mass. "But who would do the responses?" I thought when the funeral director told me of her wish. Then the name, Eleanor Rigsby, the person mentioned in the Beatles song, "All The Lonely People", came to mind. Never married, Mary was buried along with her name, too.

Don’t feel sorry for Mary. Mary was blest. She was one of those people Jesus spoke of in his Sermon on the Plain when he said to his disciples, "Blessed are you who are poor; for the kingdom of God is yours" (Luke 6:20). He did not mean there was something blessed in being poor. There is certainly nothing blessed about the abject poverty we see being experienced by our brothers and sisters living under highway bridges, sleeping in doorways, or begging on the sidewalks in our cities. If we asked one of them how they saw their situation, blessed or glamorous would not be words used to describe it. Poverty is an evil, not a blessing. As Christians, we ought to be trying to eradicate poverty. Blessed are they who do try.

Does being poor make it easier to find God, to have faith? Probably not. Being poor and on the streets is a full time job just looking for minimal food and shelter. Being the working-poor in the midst of prosperity is depressing. It may even be harder when one is working-poor to put trust in God with the childlike manner he requests (Mark 10:15). We may even think he has forgotten us or that our poverty is somehow punishment for our sins.

When we are the unemployed poor, we don’t have to worry about the things that bother the rich like losing a job, home, car, or standing in the community—all those things that they made for themselves. "But woe to you who are rich," says Jesus (Luke 6:24). "For you have received your consolation." What a wake-up call to those who think they made it all by themselves! It is his warning to those who put their trust in material things.

The poor are helpless. They have no clout. They are even marginalized from those elected to help the helpless. One needs an address to have clout and to vote. The post office does not deliver mail addressed to the the third bed, Row B of the mission; or addressed to table 5, seat 3 at the Saint Vincent De Paul or Saint Anthony Dining Rooms.

The poor are exploited. Many work any job for cash at wages considered a pittance even by third-world countries where the poor work for "the Yankee slave wages." Some stand on street corners hoping to be picked up for manual labor on a day job. We have all seen the signs "will work for food." It’s hard to get a regular job when one does not have an address, phone or a place to get clean, much less proper clothing to wear on a job interview.

Jesus was not calling material poverty blessed. There is no blessing in being poor. Except, that when one has nothing to do but beg, there is more time to think about God. Perhaps even time to pray for the things that only God can give. In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus was talking about poor as a state of mind, not of being. One can be materially poor and not be blessed. One can be materially rich and be blessed. To paraphrase what Jesus meant when he said, "Blessed are you who are poor," Mark Links, S.J., uses: "Blessed are they who realize that they can’t depend on the things of this world for happiness and put all their trust in God." Saint Augustine expressed the trust we should have in God in these words: "Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to his love, and the future to his providence."

We buried Mary Shepston a few days ago. It was not a sad occasion. While she was poor in the unimportant material things, she was rich in the one thing that is important. She placed her trust in God totally and without reservation. None of the nearly forty people who attended the service had ever met Mary Shepston. Yet they came and prayed the rosary as she requested. Several went to Holy Cross Cemetery with Fr. Duquet, who volunteered for the Committal Service. They attended because they thought no one else would be there. Christians do things like that.

The carillon chimed "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" as her casket was sprinkled with Holy Water in remembrance of her baptism. Someone volunteered to do the readings. We had two altar servers in crisp white albs and beautiful flowers arranged around the altar—delivered early for a wedding. A three-foot Easter Candle in a five-foot polished brass holder recalled her share in Christ’s victory over sin and death. We used lots of sweet smelling incense and covered her inexpensive casket with a richly woven white-linen and gold-threaded pall. Jesus was there, too. So, the funeral mass turned out to be a grand bon voyage celebration for Mary Shepston—one of the poor and blest.

 

Fr. Joe Landi is a Parochial Vicar at St. Cecilia Parish, San Francisco, the Archbishop’s Liaison to the Charismatic Renewal, the Editor of The San Francisco Charismatics, and the Board Chair of Sierra Point Credit Union, South San Francisco that serves the Charismatic Renewal membership. You can contact Fr. Landi by e-mail at sfccr@slip.net or read other articles in the April Newsletter or return to the Main Menu

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