Someone (probably more than one someone) once quipped, “Every life is a sermon and every new day we preach.” That may very well be true but it sounds like a lot of pressure to me. The truth is, though, that a life well lived is a thousand times the message of hope and joy, love and life than any sermon I’ve ever heard and most certainly more so than any sermon I’ve ever preached.
And, if it’s true that life is a sermon, Benito Iturralde preached one spitfire of a sermon. I’ll never forget him or what he did with his life. He was a little like Peter – a rock on which his family built a sure foundation. His life and what it pointed to will stay with me and there is little doubt that it will stay with you too, as you shore up the foundations on which to build your families, friendships, and faith. His life and what it pointed to –
- hope as he made a new life for himself and his family in 1950’s Miami;
- joy as he watched his sports and played his dominoes;
- and, love as he ministered as husband to Olga; father to Sylvia, Mariela and Jeff; and grandfather & great-grandfather, as I would discover, to so many that he would call his own.
It was a little like Christ, you know, who tended like a good shepherd all those the Father sent him.
It dawned on me though that it was over for Benito – for Chucho, that all his plans for tomorrow will never come to pass but they will not come to pass only because he now stands before God making account for his life and wondering how he will watch the Marlins.
The stories of Churcho’s life could go on all day. You’ve probably all heard them anyway, straight from the Chucho’s mouth. Honestly, most of the stories you’ve probably heard more than once but never in quite the same way. Anyway, the stories could go on all day so I will leave them for the reception and for the days ahead. Now, let’s give thanks for Benito and a life well lived, sharing our love and appreciation as we can, even though it is a difficult thing. It is precisely because of our affection and regard for Benito and all who we love but see no longer that we feel pain when we lose them.
We pray in our burial rite for the grace of God to console those of us who mourn, that we might not be overwhelmed by our loss. At the same time, we pray for the faith to see death as the doorway to eternal life. Indeed, our doorway into eternal life is Jesus, who through his death and resurrection opened the way for us, who “rose victorious from the dead” and “comforts us with the blessed hope of everlasting life.”
So, it’s not only ok for us to acknowledge and name our experience of loss, it’s important for us to do so. Our experience of loss is a sign of our love.
You know, there are a great many things that will remind me of Chucho. He liked his dominoes. Many of us here played with him. The most amazing thing about playing dominoes with Chucho was that even when he picked a fist-full of basura, he was able to make something happen. He found a way to put the pieces together.
But of all the things that will remind me a Chucho the most, it is baseball that will probably stick. It may be a tad cliché but baseball has something to teach us about life and even about spirituality. Baseball and life, you say? I once heard baseball described as a series of long, mind-bogglingly boring stretches of time where absolutely nothing happens. Then, suddenly, you hear the crisp crack of the bat hitting the ball, so crisp maybe you can almost smell that wood burning. The fielder makes a move, diving to his right or his left making the catch or not. A throw comes to second base, the runner slides. All in the blink of an eye. And then, you know what, for all its mundanity and ordinariness, baseball is breathtakingly beautiful.
Life is amazing and then it’s not and then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing parts, it’s pretty ordinary and mundane and routine. So, make sure you breathe in the amazing and hold on through the not-so-amazing. Then relax – relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s living! That’s living a life well lived. That’s living a heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And, you know what, life is breathtakingly beautiful.
Today, we commend to Almighty God, a man whose life was amazing and not-so-amazing, ordinary and routine, and, like everyone else’s life in its own way, breathtakingly beautiful. Remember that! Remember the beautiful part! And remember, whatever else may be true about Benito “Chucho” Iturralde, that “nothing in all of creation will be able to separate [him] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Cuban poet laureate Jose Marti speaks about the nature of love:
Cultivo una rosa blanca,
en julio como en enero,
para el amigo sincero
que me da su mano franca.
Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazón con que vivo,
cardo ni oruga cultivo:
cultivo la rosa blanca.
In English, the poem is translated:
I nurture a white rose
in July as in January,
for the true friend
who offers me his loyal hand.
And for the merciless one who wrenches out
the heart by which I live,
thistle nor thorn do I nurture:
for him, I nurture a white rose.
The poet aspires to cultivate a white rose, a labor of love, for a true friend but he also labors a white rose for one who wrenches out his heart. He declares that he will love all the same. The purpose of life is to sing of oneness of all – to sing of the divine found in all.
Here in this place we speak openly of death because we know that Jesus, child of Mary and son of the Most High, was one with us, sharing our anxiety, grief, pain, and death. He was a loving servant of those who were and are considered unlovely.
Here in this place we confess that against all expectations Jesus was raised from the dead and with him, we have hope that Chucho and we will be raised as well.
Into this day and this service, into your life and mine, Jesus proclaims, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.” Shepherds, at least the descriptions of old, were men who fiercely loved; who didn’t think twice about entering into the messiness of birthing; and who didn’t think twice about laying down their lives for the sheep.
En tus manos, oh misericordioso Salvador, encomendamos a tu siervo N. Reconoce, te suplicamos humildemente, a una oveja de tu propio redil, a un cordero de tu propio rebaño, a un pecador que tú has redimido. Recíbele en los brazos de tu misericordia, en el bendito descanso de la paz eterna y en la gloriosa comunión de los santos en luz. Amén.
Yes, receive him and us with him and this beautiful yet troubled world that yearns for mercy and peace. Receive us with him; receive us because your love is far greater than our fears and more merciful than any of our failings.