The Lesson They Left

I went to two funerals last week.

The first was so lovely, really – it was for Mary Lenaburg’s beautiful, special Courtney, who had died the Saturday before, on the Feast of St. John the Beloved. The music at the funeral was heavenly, the homily and eulogy were warm, and though there was a real sense of mourning, the church was also full of love and hope. Courtney no longer suffers. She’s free, and in the words of her mother, “She is finally healed and whole. No more seizures. No more pain. Just all encompassing joy and love for an eternity.”

The second funeral came on much more unexpectedly. Mark Pacione, a long-time leader in youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, died suddenly on the morning of December 29. His funeral felt more raw to me: it was beautiful, but also strong and real, not unlike Mark himself. The church was packed, filled up with person after person on whom Mark had had an impact. One needed only glance around the space to see it in others’ eyes – his was such a tremendous, personal loss.


Given their proximity on the calendar, I can’t help but think of these two funerals together. And really, it’s fitting that I should file them together in my mind. These two amazing individuals, Courtney and Mark, represent the concept of love like none I have ever known.

I’ve already written on Courtney’s love. Hers is one that shows you how to love more deeply, unconditionally, purely:

In this year of knowing Mary (and through her, Courtney), I’ve learned something about love. (An undefined, powerful kind of something that I feel in my chest, but can hardly describe except to say, “I’ve got to love more.”) I’ve learned something about loving your child, your husband, your friends, about loving God. I’ve learned something about loving through hardship, about tenacity and stretching to meet the challenges put before you.

Mark’s example shows you the beauty of loving everyone. As was said during his funeral (and probably hundreds of times in the days surrounding it), when Mark was talking to you, he made you feel like you were the only person in the room. No matter who you were, no matter how well he knew you, Mark made you feel like you counted.

Both examples put into practice what we pro-life Catholics talk about, but which some of us, perhaps, don’t always live – that is, the conviction that all human life is sacred. Each and every one of us matters. That goes for the unborn, the ill, the disabled, those at the ends of their lives, and even that awkward teenager standing against the wall in a basement church hall. It goes for those we know only in passing and for those we pass but do not know.

I once had a pastor who, while shaking hands with parishioners after Mass, never seemed to make eye contact with any of them. He’d hold out his hand and touch it briefly to yours, but he wouldn’t look at you. His eyes would simply scan the crowd, as if he viewed it – us – as nothing more than a vague glob of humanity.

How often do I do the same? How often – in my haste or my distraction – do I brush past people, or if I stop to talk for a moment, give them only the pretense of my attention?

How often do I view people in terms of their utility to me? How often do I judge them by their beauty or their popularity? How often do I dismiss those who don’t meet certain (unworthy) standards?

Far, far too often.

Though my mind and the most honest part of my heart understand that all people are precious, that each and every one of us are made in the image and likeness of God, the rest of me needs reminding. My harried, distracted brain, my snobbery, my jealousy – I need to keep them in check. I need to be present enough, aware and thoughtful and loving enough to treat the people around me like they count.

Because they do.

Thank you, Courtney and Mark, for your beautiful examples to us. Thank you for letting God’s love work through you. Thank you for showing us how to do the same.