Faith in the family

Faith in the family

“No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.” (Deuteronomy 30:14)

I was reading at Mass a couple of weeks ago and that line stayed with me. It was that sense that God’s Word is not something distant or illusive that attracted me. As Moses says to the people, it is not something that resides in heaven or beyond the seas. We do not need to rely on someone else to go and fetch it for us. It is here in our own mouths and our own hearts.

Those words came back to me yesterday standing with my extended family at the funeral of my Auntie Úna. Although my own mother died as a young woman the rest of the family are hardy souls and it was a shock to them all when Úna, the one who ‘never had anything wrong with her’, died after a short illness at the age of 86.

When I heard the news, I texted my brother in Chicago. His message back to me was in Irish – but with a typo – “Ar dheis Dev go raibh a hanam”. I replied that Auntie Úna would probably be quite chuffed to be sitting at de Valera’s right hand! In a bizarre coincidence it turned out that there was indeed a Dev connection. The priest, a good family friend, who prayed with the family as Úna made her gentle transition from life to death, was Fr Shan Ó Cuiv, grandson of de Valera.

Fr Ó Cuiv celebrated – and that is certainly the right word to use – the funeral Mass. He told us that Úna’s living and dying were a homily on what it means to have faith. Úna wasn’t afraid of death. If anything, Fr Ó Cuiv told us, she seemed a bit put out that Jesus was taking his time to bring her home. There was a palpable sense that Úna was now surrounded by those she loved, her own parents, my mother and my brother who was her Godson. And yet he didn’t underplay the depth of loss and loneliness which Úna’s family are going through. Faith doesn’t take away that terrible loss, it just sets it in a different context.

My cousin Joe had written a beautiful piece for the Mass booklet, a real gathering up of Úna, who she was and what mattered to her. It was a picture of a woman steeped in relationships, with her parents and siblings, her husband Stephen, her children and grandchildren. There was a powerful sense of the importance to Úna of her faith and her sense of place, her love for the West of Ireland. He finished with the line, “That’s me so, my husband my family and my grandchildren, the West of Ireland and my God. What is there to be sad about?”

And those lines from Deuteronomy came back to me – that the Word of God is here, now, with us, in our mouths and in our hearts. It was clear that Úna knew that in the very depth of her being and as I stood there with my own four children, I prayed that they too will always have that deep sustaining faith. I know Úna and my mother and their siblings came from a generation when faith was as natural as the ground under their feet – a natural part of life.

For my children’s generation life is more complicated and to have a living faith is to swim against the tide. Danny and I did not tell our daughters and son that they had to come yesterday. It was their choice and the significance of the day did not escape them. They knew that to be together with family, to mourn and celebrate Úna was not an obligation – it was a statement of identity. This is who we are – family, sustained by faith and the love of each other.