Until not too long ago, it has been customary for a newborn Catholic to receive the name of a saint. That saint was supposed to guide and watch over its namesake through his or her life. I am named after Saint William. Unfortunately there were six Saint Williams and I have no idea which one my mother was thinking of. There are also many Joseph’s, Mary’s, John’s, and Patrick’s and so on from my generation. When my grandson Tyler was born 18 years ago, I remember the deacon who baptized him saying that he hoped that Tyler would be the first Saint Tyler.
We lost Rosie McDowell our very good friend of over 35 years a few springs ago. While she was apparently named after Saint Rose of Lima, no one I know ever called her Rose. To all of us who loved her, she was just Rosie. Rosie was the matriarch of a very large Irish family that included six children and 19 grandchildren.
Her husband and most of their large family were members of that invisible clan of Fighting Irish from the University of Notre Dame. The breath of Irish sod was always on them. When coupled with their Catholic faith, their Irish heritage provided the joie de vivre to their family life. When Rosie died that family spirit kicked in like nothing I had ever witnessed.
She had said all her goodbyes, received the last rites of the Church and did not really die but merely faded away. While her cancer did afford them the time to prepare for her death with individual visitations, smiles, some laughter and in private a good deal of tears, when the day finally arrived the grandchildren and their parents had to gather from all over the country from college, spring break, work and family obligations. One ND granddaughter flew in from her missionary work deep in the heart of Africa. This was all to pay their last respects to the woman who had given life to each one of them. We should all die as she did, surrounded by grace and family.
Her funeral was a paragon of family values, wrapped in a liturgical service that underscored what it means to be a child of God. Virtually each member of the family from the youngest grandchild to her oldest son had some important role to play in her requiem Mass. While it lacked the frivolity of an Irish wake, the celebrant made up for it in a personalized homily that captured Rosie’s persona in words, stories and her infectious smile.
While all the family homage and friendly respect demonstrated how much she was loved and missed, it did not hold a candle to what made her a veritable saint. Most modern notions of heaven are cartoonist or sophomoric. We live a naive society that falsely assumes that everyone who dies immediately enters the Pearly Gates and plays golf with St. Peter or talks fashion with the Blessed Mother.
Like most popular notions of Heaven, this is a myth that puts a protective bandage over truth and reality. It is the polar opposite of the heresy of the early 20th century that presumed all bad or unpopular people immediately went to Hell. These are both false judgments and should be avoided at all costs. The Catholic Church teaches that before the faithful can see God in Heaven, their souls must be pure as the whitened snow.
What makes for sainthood is the purifying mercy of the Cross of Christ. The Bible is fairly explicit that unless we pick up and carry our crosses daily…or maybe help others, like Simon of Cyrene carry theirs, we will not become saints…that is get into Heaven. Rosie was a short, small woman who developed very broad shoulders over the last 15 years or more of her life in carrying her very heavy cross.
She suffered severely from her chronic rheumatoid arthritis, a crippling, pernicious disease that made her down 15-20 pills, each and every day. While her pain and suffering was excruciating, she never lost her cherubic smile. She was one of a short list of people I have seen or known, like Mother Teresa, and Joe Garagiola who could light up a room just by entering it. Her fatal cancer was in a way a blessing because it eventually freed her from the shackles of pain that dominated her life for so many years.
Her husband told us that a peaceful calm came over her the last few weeks, even after she stopped taking her arthritis medication. I submit that this is the stuff of sainthood. A novice once asked Mother Teresa what she needed to do to become a saint. She quipped that she should die soon because Pope John Paul II was canonizing just about everybody.
Will the Catholic Church ever recognize Rosie as such? Most likely not but had John Paul II still been pope, her odds would have shot out tremendously. Most of us who gave Rosie her well-deserved send-off rightfully assume that her suffering was her crown of thorns that she wore patiently, modestly and with firm religious conviction.
I can say without hesitation, like my saintly mother who had Alzheimer’s for 19 years, Rosie is experiencing the Beatific Vision right now. Most of us who remain have worried more about her husband who has to face a 53-year void in his life for which he only had a few short weeks to prepare. I think I know what he has done to do to alleviate his grief. These past few years he has gotten down on his knees, bowed his head and prayed to the first Saint Rosie.