To Pause and To Pray
Homily for the Mass of Christian Burial for Mary Jerome Slattery Case (1919-2015)
Preached on January 12, 2015 at Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Readings: Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9, Psalm 23:1-6; Romans 5:5-11; John 14:1-6
There hangs in the Saint Andrew parish office a copy of Jean François Millet’s “The Angelus” that was painted by Mary Case. It depicts two peasants standing in a field, their heads bowed down in prayer. At their feet is a small basket of potatoes; close by are a cart and a pitchfork. On the horizon rises the distant steeple of the village church.
For many of us, it is an unfamiliar scene. It is something that one would have witnessed once upon a time. For Mary Case it was something that would have brought her back to her younger days when the ringing of church bells called everyone to pause and to pray. It did not matter then what was going on. Those bells rang at least three times a day—at morning, at noon, and in the evening—and reminded all the faithful to make time for God: to thank Him, to ask for His forgiveness, to plead for His help, and to pray for those who have died. That painting captures a moment when a sound, however distant, would have moved people to silence.
But, for Mary, this painting was more than just about the memory of an oft forgotten Catholic custom. For her it was also about the omnipresence of grace, how it connected her to the Lord even when the church steeple seemed so far away. It was about her faith that kept her going in times of plenty and in times of want, in times of sorrow and in times of joy.
Mary had seen almost a century’s worth of ups and downs in her lifetime. She had already lost her father before the Great Depression started knocking on her family’s front door. She did the hair of one Rosemary Clooney before that local beauty became a household name. She bore three children and buried one. In the best of times and in the worst of times, those church bells rang like clockwork and she knew that, no matter what was going on, it was time to pause and to pray. She, like the apostle Thomas, did not always know where to go (cf. Jn. 1:5), but she let those bells direct her to Him who alone is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 1:6).
Those bells rang when she was baptized at Saint Edward’s in Cynthiana. They rang on her wedding day at Saint James in Brooksville. They rang at Saint Patrick’s in Maysville to mark the end of the Second World War. They rang here at Saint Andrew’s to call her to choir practice and to Mass. They rang when her daughter, Mary Don Bland, was laid to rest. Today, they will ring once again as we bid her homeward to the Lord.
Listen then to those bells and hear how the Lord also calls us forth from near and far to pause and to pray, and, in our kindness, to remember Mary Jerome Case, her long lost sorrows and her everlasting joy.