Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Estrella Rios, RIP

    Generally speaking, Catholics do not eulogize their dead—that is to say that we do not make elaborate speeches about the worldly accomplishments about our deceased loved ones.  But I am going to tell you just two or three of my recollections of Estrella Rios, because they represent good things that all of us should strive to imitate.

    I met Estrella and her husband Jórge quite a number of years ago, when we were offering our Sunday Masses at the Ramada Inn, a few blocks south of here.  They had traveled extensively around the area, trying to find the traditional Mass.  I would commend their example to you, and urge you to keep to the Faith, even if it causes you to make sacrifices.

    They told me that they were going to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary in a few weeks, which were did at holy Mass on that day.  I don’t remember exactly when that was, but I would guess that they had to be married for a total of sixty years, or maybe sixty-five.  Again I would commend their example to you—a rather marvelous achievement in our times, when marriage has become more and more a temporary arrangement of convenience for so many couples.  No marriage is perfect—they had to work at it for it to last all those years—a tenacity that we would all do well to emulate.

    They told me, also, that they had escaped from Castro’s Cuba.  I had friends in high school that had made the same journey, so I had heard a lot of very bad stories, and always had respect for those with the courage to defy the regime, at least by leaving.  They had a good sense of humor about it.  “Was it hard to leave Cuba?” I asked.  “No,” she said, “they are happy to see people leave . . .  as long as they take absolutely nothing”!  Again, I commend their example to you, for Marxism is not dead, and still represents a terrible threat to society and religion; to salvation, prosperity, and liberty.  It is something to be resisted, and best to be resisted while maintaining a good sense of humor.

    We will miss Estrella, for that is a very human and natural thing to do.  Those of you who were especially close to her will find a big piece missing from your lives.  Time will heal the pain of loss, but in the meanwhile don’t ashamed to cry a little-or a lot, if it makes you feel better.  You will probably feel a little foolish the first or second time you have something to tell her, and suddenly realize that she can no longer answer the phone—we all do things like that.  Whatever you do, be sure not to allow time to erase her memory from your mind.

    “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong,” says the Psalmist.[1]  Death is a natural thing, for all material things eventually break down.  The shiny new car you bought ten years ago has a lot of scratches, if you still have it at all;  the new dress, even that diamond jewelry eventually loses its luster.  The human body is no different.  Eventually it comes to its end, even with all of the high technology of the hospital emergency room.

    But there is more to the human being than the material body, for God created us “a little lower than the angels,” with a spiritual element much like theirs—indeed, much like His own.[2]  We know this spiritual element as the soul.  And unlike the body and every other material thing, the soul is immortal—it has no parts to break down and wear out.

    Do people really have a soul?  Of course they do!  It is not hard to recognize the soul in a man or a woman, for human beings are much more than just their material parts.  Man—like God and the angels—has both intellect and will;  that is to say that they are capable of both thinking and of loving.  These powers of the spirit transcend the limits of material being.

    The human intellect allows for introspection.  It allows knowing one’s own existence, and the part one plays in society and in the world.  A human being can look down into his own heart, where conscience dwells, and where the Holy Ghost resides.  He can also look above on a clear winter night, and recognize in that order and beauty the handiwork of God.  Men and women alone among their fellow material creatures are endowed with these gifts of God.

    They are uniquely capable of abstraction.  That is to say that the soul can draw concepts out of the material things around it.  It can contemplate concepts like truth and justice and freedom, compassion and love.  It can contemplate these things, and can desire them, and can strive to make the concepts into realities.  It is something far more than just his material beings that is capable of going our to the poor and the sick and the confused.  The love of husband and wife and family and friends is above and beyond mere material being.  We are more than the sum of our material parts, for the soul, the seat of this reason and love—like God and the angels—goes on forever.

    In God’s original plan, men and women were to be preserved from death by God’s special graces—we speak of “preternatural” gifts possessed by Adam and Eve that preserved them from the physical difficulties we all naturally experience.  Unfortunately, Adam and Eve lost those gifts when they disobeyed God’s command and sin entered the world.  Very much like a man who squandered a great fortune, Adam could not pass on to his descendents what he did no have—the fortune was gone.

    But even then, God was merciful and promised to send a Redeemer, a Man born of a woman—a Man who was the Son of God Himself.  He would not take away our physical discomforts, and we would still die.  Indeed, He died for us in great discomfort, so that the gates of Heaven could be opened once again—so that immortal souls of men and women could spend eternity in happiness, as it had been planned from the beginning.

    And on the last day—the day of judgment—God will restore our bodies for all eternity.  A marvelous thing for those who have followed His Commandments, but an ominous threat to those who do not—a body intended for the delights of Heaven, perpetually doomed to the penalties of Hell.

    But even there, God has provided for those of us who are weak, and prone to stray from His path.  The Son of God gave us the Sacraments to strengthen us as we journey through life to death, and on to eternity.  We see them at work in Estrella’s life:

    In Baptism, Estrella received the sanctifying grace of God that would make soul radically pleasing to Him.

    In Confirmation, He strengthened her with the Holy Ghost, so that she could willingly and openly profess the Catholic faith.

    He nourished these graces regularly when she received His own body and blood in Holy Communion.

    When she fell from grace, as we all do, He revived His graces through Sacramental Confession and the absolution by His priests.

    In the Sacrament of Matrimony, God blessed Estrella with a faithful husband, Jórge, and gave them children to carry on where they would eventually have to leave off.

    However sorrowful it was for those whom she left behind, her death a few days ago was a victory won in cooperation with God.  One of the greatest privileges any priest may have is the opportunity to bring that Sacraments to those in their final hours.  She was absolved of her sins, anointed with the Oil of the Sick, and received the Apostolic Blessing with it plenary indulgence.

    Let me close with just a few things that I think are appropriate to mention whenever people gather like this to mourn their dead.  I said much the same thing when we mourned Jórge, but I believe they are worth repeating:

    “It is therefore a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.”[3]  While sins and the punishment due to sin may be forgiven during this life, our Lord speaks of sins forgiven “in the world to come.”[4]

    We pray for the dead that God will swiftly cleanse them of those small sins and imperfections that might keep them temporarily from enjoying the glory of heaven.  That, by His mercy, He might quickly forgive the punishment that is due to their sins in Justice.

    But, we also pray for the dead, that we might receive something for ourselves;  that by reflecting on the realities of life and death, of heaven and hell, we might be more motivated to keep His Commandments and receive His Sacraments in order to ensure our own eternal salvation.  These are things not just to talk about, for they are realities;  we might even say the only realities, for nothing else matters if we lose our souls.

    Finally, we pray for the dead, so that they will pray for us.  The souls in Purgatory need our prayers, for which they are eternally grateful.  Remember that they are God's saints, soon to share the glory of heaven with Him;  powerful intercessors on our behalf.  Let us not forget those who have gone before us, lest they forget to pray for us.


[1] Psalm xc: 10.

[2]   Psalm viii: 5.

[3]   2 Machabees xii: 43-36.

[4]   Matthew xii: 32.


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