What Urban Missionaries Do
This is a story about love, about how being open to the suffering of others allows us to embrace it as our own. It is a story about comprehending the fullness of the Message and responding to what it requires of us. It is a lesson in abandoning our selves to the service of others. It is, in the world we inhabit, the meaning of the Cross.
Late last Saturday afternoon, Kathy and Walter received a phone call from the distraught daughter of a woman we can call Laura. Over the years, Laura had become one of the Little Store’s “regulars,” occasionally shopping, participating in the Christmas Giving Program, and at times receiving food. She and her husband had raised more than a dozen children; no one at the store knew the exact number. Many were impaired either intellectually or socially. Few could function without at least limited assistance.
Although in her eighties – again, none of us knew precisely how old she was – she had not seemed sick. Nonetheless, Laura had unexpectedly passed away, leaving a bewildered family unsure of how they could do what seemed impossible – giving their mother a dignified burial.
Laura’s daughter said the funeral director had advised her that her mother’s cremation and burial would cost $1,600; to her, it might as well have been ten times that. Besides, who would perform the service? They was no clergyman she knew who might be able to speak knowingly of Laura.
Kathy and Walter asked how much money the children had been able to raise. Laura’s body remained at the morgue – no funeral director had been willing to remove it without prepayment. The daughter said they could come up with no more than $1000. “Can you come to the store in an hour?” Kathy and Walter asked. “We’ll have $600 for you then.” Knowing Walter was in some way ordained, Laura’s daughter asked if he would perform the service. “Do you know my mother well enough to talk about her?” she asked. Walter assured her that he would perform the service and that he knew exactly what to say.
Laura’s funeral – dignified and affirming the value of her life – is next Wednesday.
The story is simple. Its lesson is clear. I don’t know what it has cost Kathy and Walter in life experience to know what they know and to have the certainty of action they possess. I wish I did.