March 21, 2015 – A Homily for Rita O’Connor at the Dayspring, Wendy Lywood
I somehow think that Rita would be delighted with the version we have heard of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. Paul is saying that we have this beautiful treasure, the grace and gift of our ordinary lives, held in what he calls “cracked pots of earth and clay”. It’s Paul’s way, I think, of saying that human life is vulnerable and, therefore, precious at the same time.
The cracked pot image reminds me that Rita always said that she wanted this inscription on her gravestone: “Here lies the shell, the nut is gone!”
So St Paul says, we are cracked and chipped from our afflictions, but we are not crushed; we are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despair; we have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed.
When I think of the beauty and gift of Rita’s life, I find that this is a fitting description. Like most of us, Rita faced loneliness and difficulties in relationships; she had financial and medical limitations; and she faced a struggle to be accepted for who she was in all her uniqueness and difference.
Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”. That was Rita – she was who she was – what you saw is what you got. Rita was authentic. As today’s gospel describes it, she lived the light of her life, bringing out the “God-colours in the world” One friend said that she was always ready to rejoice in the happy circumstances of others, or grieve with those who were mourning. Rita took prayer seriously and was ready to pray on behalf of those in need – a facebook post testified to a young mother’s gratitude for the way Rita prayed diligently for her critically ill baby.
Rita was a courageous woman. To say “yes” to her life each day was an act of great faith and it gifted us with the funny, flamboyant, compassionate, loving woman that she was – one who definitely had a unique fashion sense all her own.
Rita had an important ministry in our community. She was a faithful friend and volunteer; a wonderful reader who proclaimed the Scriptures with great passion; and she had the ministry of hospitality – of welcoming newcomers to our community – she genuinely enjoyed meeting people.
Rita loved being an O’Connor. She was immensely proud of her family and, as her friends, we got regular updates on weddings, babies and other family events. She loved the O’Connor reunions and family gatherings for special occasions. She was devastated by Kevin’s death. She missed her parents immensely and had great admiration for the “other” Rita in the O’Connor family.
To all the O’Connor clan, she would want you to know that she loved you beyond what she was ever able to express. To her nieces and nephews: Rita was so proud of the people you have become. And she was so looking forward to seeing Aidan grow up and Paula’s wedding.
Rita was not ashamed of the limitation or vulnerability of her life. That doesn’t mean she liked it! But she had the wisdom to know that it is precisely at the places where we are most broken, that God is closest to us. Paul reminds us that we carry in our bodies the reality of the death and suffering of Jesus so that Jesus’ resurrection life rises and reveals itself in our bodies as well.
And how does that resurrection come about except through family and friends who are the hands and eyes and heart of God’s love? Rita in her times of affliction and despair, knew the compassion of others reaching out to her and so this journey from death to resurrection was real for her –it was her place of coming home.
Her weekly visit to the Fraschetti/Greenwood home where she could gather the children into her arms and read a good book was a journey into resurrection life – especially time with her beloved Tessa.
Facebook updates with nieces/nephews/sisters reminded her that she belonged and helped her move into new life.
Gatherings with the women’s group to just be together and celebrate life was a journey into resurrection life.
Her phone calls and coffee outings with Elizabeth Buckley were celebrations of resurrection.
She and I had a kind of code phrase we would use to encourage one another with when times got tough, borrowing words from a favorite writer: “Say to the darkness, we beg to differ!”
So Rita knew how to make the journey from affliction and despair, into new life, from death into resurrection. She had a lot of practice in her life. We can now trust her to the final journey from death to new life, knowing it is the same Love that guides her home and waits for her.
Easter has indeed arrived early for Rita! Alleluia!
I want to end by quoting one of Rita’s favorite theologians(!), Leonard Cohen:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
there is a crack in everything
that’s how the light gets in.”