Mark Twain once mused that “all you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” These seem like fitting words to begin as I, quivering with emotion, scribe a few words on the death of the fictional (and yet real) Susan from the Parish Council. Her ignorance was inestimable, her confidence impenetrable, and her success undeniable.
Not that I can confirm Susan has indeed passed from this life to her eternal… reward. To further cite Twain, perhaps reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated. I suppose Susan can rise from any alleged demise. Truth be told, if Susan is not cremated first, I imagine her funeral as such, with the priest requesting additional “ministers” of Holy Communion, and Susan rising from the casket to pump the Purell and serve Jesus to all her sisters and brothers.
But for now, I will dare to speak of Susan as having died. Her online “group newsletter” via Facebook/Twitter has gone silent. She warned recently she was sick, and that the end was near. Now she is silent. Can it be true? Perhaps it is possible after all, for as Bilbo Baggins says in The Hobbit, “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending.”
If true, I offer a brief eulogy for Susan. As we know, she was so fond of eulogies.
Susan was born in a regular town, to a regular family, and baptized at a regular parish. In many ways she lived a regular life. She was educated by a free-thinking order of nuns, and from this decisive experience learned, as she liked to explain, “I am woman, hear me roar.” And roar she did. In the words of Susan’s first husband, “it was like poking a bear, and then having the bear turn on you... and realizing that you’re married to this beast!”
Perhaps to give Susan more free time away from home, her second husband suggested she join parish ministry. It is here that Susan found her great calling in life. To say that Susan was active in parish life is an understatement! Her local bishop, Pat, used to quip that if you looked up “active participation” in an encyclopedia, a picture of dear old Susan would be there. She devoted so much time to her parish that it is said she seldom had time for prayer. Such was her dedication to her faith community.
What was this active participation? To name just a few, Susan was active as a parish council member, minister of Communion (EMHC), felt-art leader, liturgical dance architect, marriage preparation instructor (she never said “no”), tambourine composer, youth group leader (for ages 14-90), and preached homilies regularly – with topics including Mother Earth, the New Pentecost, and why saying “Amem” is more inclusive to women. Susan was also instrumental in bringing in weekly yoga to her parish, as well as centering prayer, enneagram workshops, and, perhaps her proudest proud accomplishment of all, instituting a regular girl altar-serving program some two decades before such changes were permitted by Pope John Paul II. Certainly she was ahead of her times! Susan’s model of parish success was unrestrained, and spread rapidly throughout the surrounding Catholic churches. It still thrives today, though in lesser numbers and strength, and with more grey hairs.
Regrets? Susan had a few. Undeniably, Susan felt devastated this past February when Pope Francis did not permit her lifelong ambition of being ordained. Also, Susan was never able to find a priest brave enough to marry her son to his boyfriend, though she was hoping to vacation in Germany this summer to find such a priest - possibly even Cardinal Marx, of whom Susan would say, “his last names really speaks to me.”
The final chapter in Susan’s life came rather suddenly, more specifically within the past few weeks. Her favorite priest was mysteriously moved by the bishop, and so Fr. Youngtrad filled in. Let’s just say that Susan went down fighting! She daily called the bishop to complain, had Bev and the girls at the parish harass the new priest, and even sought spiritual energies to challenge him. All to no avail, as Fr. Youngtrad refused to abandon his pre-New Pentecost ways. Still, it was very inspiring to see Susan’s continued vigor, even when her physical forces began to betray her.
Ultimately Susan the Confident, Susan the Success, Susan of the Parish Council, met her match. Her last group message reads as such:
“He [Fr. Youngtrad] asked me if I would be open to him performing it [last rites] in ‘the older way’... that made me smile, because he’s nothing if not persistent and he clearly cares for me in his way.
I gave him grief on the phone and protested that he was trying to take advantage of me in my weakened condition.
But, even as I teased him, I decided to humor him and let him go ahead. And maybe, just maybe, I won’t mind too much after all.”
To this, we can only guess if Susan didn’t “mind too much after all.”
One might say that it is bitter irony that Susan was to receive traditional Latin rites on her deathbed - the same traditional approach she spent her entire life aggressively defying. But I will conclude by recalling a certain story Susan used to reminisce on. In it she was just a little girl, and her grandfather was dying. The priest came, administered the final sacraments in the traditional Latin manner, and stayed to pray a rosary. Her grandfather, surrounded by his beloved church members and family, in the middle of “now and at the hour of our death,” gave a faint but perceptible smile, before closing his eyes forever. Susan used to retell this story, but have a distant look of aching for home in her eyes, and a certain tranquillity not normally associated with her fiery personality. I would suggest that this memory remained with Susan until the very end.
Somehow, someway, Susan will continue to live on in all the many parishes her life touched. Or at least, these parishes will die trying to uphold her memory.
Bless, Amem, and may God bear you up on eagle’s wings, dear Susan of the Parish Council.
So comes snow after fire, and even Susans have their end.
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