This coming September, my sister, Melinda and I, will celebrate the 5th anniversary of our mother's entrance into eternal glory. With grateful memories on this Mother's Day, I share with you the homily that I gave at her funeral mass. We love you, Mom!
My sisters and brothers, it is immeasurably comforting for me and my sister that so many have gathered this lovely morning here in this beautiful Basilica as we surround our mother, Bertha, with the love and prayers of God’s people. We never live our faith in isolation and our journey to the Lord is never made alone. We are always accompanied by that great “cloud of witnesses” who support us “…. until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world lies hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.”
After nearly 95 years, mom’s work is now done and with the lively hope that should always animate the hearts of those who truly believe in the Lord of life, we firmly believe the greatest chapter in her long life has now begun.
In 1984, our father died after a long and painful journey through congestive heart failure at the all too early age of 69. While Melinda and I were understandably devastated at the loss of our father, we worried most about mom who had depended so much on him and during his declining health and had been his primary care giver. She was unfailingly devoted to him just as she was when our family brought into our home dad’s mother and mom’s own mother as their earthly journey’s were coming to an end. There would be no talk of sending them to any antiseptic facility. No, their final years and months would be in a home, our home now made their own.
After caring for so many folks in declining illness, what would mom now do? How would she fair? Would the crushing grief of losing her husband of 43 years plunge her into despair? No, my friends. After mourning the loss of Dad, mom early on told us, “You know, one door has closed but another has opened for me!” And so with the quintessentially characteristic hope that so marked mom’s incredible life, a new journey began for her during these past 30 years. A journey of living life in such a buoyant and hoped filled manner that at times, Melinda and I would look at one another and say, “Doesn’t she ever slow down, or get tired of shopping!”
Literally living the motto of Blessed Serra, “Always forward, never looking back, siempre adelante, nunca atras….” Mom traveled the world with her friends, became an accomplished painter, was an avid bowler, cultivated and took great pride in her gardens, kept up with the daily news, often calling me – the consummate “newsaholic” with a scoop, never missed her Wednesday hair appointment except for the one four days before she died, knew the aisles of Marshall’s like the back of her hand, and all the while relishing opportunities to prepare meals that became legendary. Whether it was her marvelous Mexican food without a recipe in sight, sushi, lox’s and bagels, lasagna or plain old American pot roast – it was always a “catholic” – with a small “c” culinary experience! And all of it just seemed effortless for mom, most especially when she was doing it for others.
Mom was already in her 80’s when I was appointed here as Rector to this Jewel of the California Missions in 2003. She loved this assignment because somehow, she felt that it made her “Queen” of the Mission! Having lived in our suburban home in Granada Hills for over 50 years and surviving two devastating earthquakes, Melinda and I thought for sure that she would never leave her familiar surroundings. But then came Christmas that year and as she was enjoying a “very light” scotch and soda before our Christmas dinner, she told us that she had an announcement to make. Mel and I looked up and mom simply said, “You know, I’m out of here! I want to move to Orange Country – to Leisure World!” And folks, by the summer of 2004, the house was sold, her new home acquired, a bevy of new friends were secured and, as she would say, the happiest ten years of her life began.
Marvelous and grateful memories in life, sometimes have a way of filtering out the moments of challenge and difficulty. Mom had her fair share of these – surviving breast cancer, the death of her parents, spouse, nine siblings and countless dear friends. For mom, there was indeed a time to mourn and be sad, but far more was there a time to be filled with the hope and promise that so characterized her life of faith. While mom’s faith was as deep and unshakeable at the foundations of this great Retablo, she was not a terribly pious person (like mother, like son!) She disdained the “perpetually pinched look of the Catholic Taliban for whom the milk bottle in life always seems half empty.” Mom’s faith was born of the confidence that was rooted in knowing that she was immeasurably loved by the Lord of her life – and no torment would ultimately touch or destroy that incandescent spirit. It is said that joy and laughter are the infallible signs of the presence of God in one’s life. If that be the case, mom undoubtedly overflowed with godly presence. As an artist she was charmed by the beauty of God’s creation, she relished the company of others, especially my brother priests and the few bishops I have come to know along the way that she too got to know. Bishop Vann, thank you for your special attentiveness to her during your brief time as our new bishop. From the flowers you sent her following your first meeting to your personal visit to her bedside a few days before her death, know how much those endearing gestures meant to her and to our family.
Speaking of my mom and Bishops, one will never forget the night before this grand Retablo was blessed and a dinner was hosted on the historic Mission grounds to welcome and acknowledge the presence of Cardinal Levada from Rome who would bless this Retablo the next day. My mom knew the Cardinal before his appointment as Archbishop of Portland and even prepared a small farewell meal for him before his departure from Los Angeles at our home in Granada Hills. As the meal, al fresco was about to begin, he walked over to mom in his cardinalatial splendor and asked, “Mrs. Holquin, may I escort you to dinner?” And then, arm and arm they walked into the outdoor garden behind the historic rectory – yes, the infamous one. She was beaming so much that it almost delayed sunset!
“Do not let your hearts be troubled….” Jesus reminds us and all who experience the loss of a dear loved one, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” My friends, the good news that has sustained Christians down through the centuries is that “we have not here a lasting city…” We are all pilgrims, immigrants in search of our lasting home. For mom, that pilgrimage that began in the font of new life at Sacred Heart parish in Clifton, Arizona has come to an end. She is now home, embraced by the Lord of Life, surrounded by her family and friends who have gone before us in faith, and is now feasting at the eternal banquet of unending love and life. Alleluia!