Homily for the Funeral Mass of Mary K. Meyer

By Fr. Mike Coleman

10 February 2007
Our Lady and St. Rose of Lima Church
Kansas City, Kansas

During the Second World War when American Marines were retaking
the Mariana islands in the South Pacific from the Japanese,
a group landed on one of the islands and encountered a convent of American sisters.
The sisters were caring for the displaced, for orphans and for lepers.
It was clear that life was very hard on many levels.
The Marine captain told the sister in charge:
“You couldn’t hire me to do this for all the money in the world.”
And she quietly said to him: “Me neither.”
She kind of looked down, then raised her eyes to look at the solider, and smiled,
as if sharing a secret, or affirming something the two of them could agree on.
Alejandro had slipped into the United States for many reasons.
He was just a kid, a nice young man, as Mary Kay would say,
who for the most part was seeking a little adventure.
He stayed for a while at Shalom House during the summer,
but finally decided that he wanted to be closer to Mexico.

When he left the house to go to the railroad yard,
Mary Kay checked to see that he had his money securely concealed in his clothing.
And she did two additional things that she had never done with any of the others:
she wrote her name and phone number on a piece of paper
and gave it to him: “ Call me if you get into trouble.”
And, she gave him a kiss.  At the time she said she felt very much like his mother.
Although she later said she did not know why she had done that, it did become clear in time.
A few days later she received a call from a Sheriff in Louisiana.
He said: “Do you know someone named Alejandro?
We found his body today at the bottom of a coal car.
He apparently had crawled into the car to sleep
And the workers did not know anyone was in the car when they filled it with coal.
He had your phone number in his pocket.”
In Renaissance paintings coming out of the Catholic Reformation
there are many paintings in which we see a person standing in the foreground,
and the person is pointing: usually pointing at Christ –  and looking at us,
just in case we might miss the whole reason why the picture was painted to begin with.

I would like to characterize Mary Kay and others who think and act as she did
as witnesses who point whether really or metaphorically.

A witness in this context is a person who is present
on God’s behalf in the here and now concerning some present condition.  
A witness may speak aloud, sometimes a witness may actually point,
but often the witness simply stands or acts in the scene silently.
The purpose of the witnessing  is to remind the viewer
that there is something here which needs to be paid attention to. 

In the Catholic Worker sense of witness,
the pointing or the standing is to call attention to the fact
that the scene does not conform to right order in the universe.
It takes a certain kind of witness who has the guts to raised the question: —
why does this condition exist,  – how much longer must it exist,  and — can no one fix it?   

Archbishop Helder Camara, of Recife in Brazil,
said: “When I feed the poor, people say I am a saint;
But when I ask why the people are poor, they say I am a Communist.”

A witness knows fairly well from experience
that for all the pointing or being present in the world,
the condition is not likely to change. 
But for the record, for God’s record,
the situation has been acknowledged and underlined by someone who has pointed out
that the situation is not in the interest of the human race,
nor in the interest of God’s hopes for the universe:

– And so the witness goes to the school of the Americas and points:
– The witness is arrested for trespassing at a nuclear testing site,
  and is taken away by the mps:
– A witness disrupts the talk of a big shot from Washington, and is hustled from the room.

A witness is one who says that some human behavior is so awful,
so resistant to external force to change it
that passive resistance is the only tool we have to overcome its power.
Some things cannot be “fixed” by external manipulation.

Mary Kay was quoted in the newspaper as saying:

“These are not normal times.  In the midst of darkness and fear, we need to celebrate the good and the noble deep within us.  We need to celebrate the times we have stood up against evil and injustice, and said with our hearts, ‘No.’”
(Kevin Kelly, “Memorial service remembers El Salvador’s martyrs,” The Catholic Key, 9 December 2001.)

And when the hearings are held in the next life,
the witness will be summoned to testify:
Yes, Lord, I saw it, yes, I noted it, and yes, I questioned it.
Our Lord said: I was hungry and naked and homeless, and friendless.
And yes, you fed me; you clothed me; you welcomed and befriended me.

There is no middle person here: no illegal, no druggie, no schizophrenic,
no someone at the bottom of the food chain.

And by extension Jesus might say:  
 I was in danger because they taught people in my country refined ways of torture
  and you gave me asylum;

 My society, my country was in danger of being destroyed, and you came and walked   among us. 

 I had absolutely nothing to give you and you loved me as your own.

If we believe this at all, we believe it more firmly today
because of the example of Mary Kay and those of her company.   

The witness points to our lips and to our hearts and in effect says:
I hear what your lips say, what does your heart say?
Perhaps when Mary Kay made the transition to the Light,
and met the Light face to face,
She kind of looked down, as she was wont to do,
then raised her eyes to look at the Lord, and smiled,
as if sharing a secret, or affirming something the two of them could agree on:

Most likely, she pointed at Jesus, and, not all that surprised, said:
“So, you are the one I’ve been working for all these years,
bossing you around, cleaning up after you, taking you to the clinics,
putting up with your disruptions, moving you along when the time came,
though I have to admit this always saddened me.

I always found you something of a puzzle on earth –
You come in such a variety of flavors and identities.”

Then maybe she turned, with a little flick of her pony tail to look around
and here she really pointed: “I see the streets here are not paved with gold. Glad to see that!”
Then turning back to the Lord, she said: “Well, nice place you have here.  Anything you need done?”



  1. Sister Mary Rachel Flynn said

    Thank you for your wonderful enewsletter, especially for the articles about Mary Kay.

  2. Peg Ekerdt said

    Thanks, Michael–both Michaels–for the forum of KC Olive Branch and Michael Coleman, for an eloquent and moving homily–
    We had a funeral here at the parish on the morning of Mary Kay’s funeral–so I am especially grateful to read this homily–and in a small way, participate in the celebration of the great gift of her life-

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