One Big Happy

St. StanBig families are…interesting. I don’t come from one — my mother was an only child and my father had one sister. And growing up it was just me and my brother. Bryna, on the other hand, comes from a HUGE family of Polish descent. Bryna’s mother is the oldest of 12 Gwozdz siblings reared in Western Massachusetts (there’s a reason Rosalie had just two children — she spent her whole childhood raising the other 11!). So much for eight being enough.

A few weeks after we were married in 1995, one of Bryna’s uncles died suddenly. He was the first and, to date, the only sibling to leave this mortal life. The wake and subsequent funeral was baptism by fire for this newly minted in-law. As we drove up to Adams, MA, Bryna tutored me relentlessly on the names. I’ve had the 12 down for awhile. It’s the (now) 26 grandchildren and 36 great-grandchildren that keep me guessing.

Bryna’s grandmother died a week ago at 94. Babcia, as I knew her — polish for “grandmother” — was the quintessential matriarch. She relished, above all, her family and her faith. She was a devout Roman Catholic, a regular attendee of mass at the now de-consecrated St. Stanislaus. But she also took great delight in telling her church friends that her granddaughter Bryna had “married a priest.” I can only imagine the looks!

I was touched when the family asked me to deliver the homily at her funeral, which I did last Wednesday. The mass was held in the other RC church in Adams — the one that didn’t get closed. Father Dan was wonderfully collegial though, of course, I couldn’t receive communion. Which made me wonder when it was that the church transformed into a bunch of legal-minded Pharisees? I don’t mean this to sound as harsh as it might but nonetheless I can’t recall Jesus ever refusing table hospitality to another person no matter how “different.” Father Dan did come over and offer me his blessing and then asked for mine in return which was a wonderfully gracious gesture.

But I can’t recall ever wanting to receive communion so badly. Perhaps it was the forbidden fruit phenomenon but I also wanted to receive in the context of celebrating Christ’s resurrection while marking the life of an amazing and faithful woman.

I did delight, however, watching my boys go up and receive communion. Not just because it was sticking it to the man (which it sort of was) but because they were able to commune with Jesus on an important and meaningful day for them. The best part? Zack receiving the host in his hand and then wandering around looking for the non-existent chalice bearer to get the wine. Communion in one kind, baby.


9 Comments on “One Big Happy”

  1. I believe the church “transformed into a bunch of legal-minded Pharisees” (although, Sadducees would be more accurate…buy my book)by the 2nd century. Certainly, legalism was alive a well at the earliest of the “church” counsels (Council of Jerusalem). And I, for one, do mean to sound harsh because church wasn’t even really church yet, something most contemporary Christians seem not to know.

    Fr. Dan sounds like a trooper, which is what you have to be (I guess) when your church is left standing. As for Zack, I’m so glad he didn’t get spanked by an outraged parishioner.

  2. (Aunt) Ceil says:

    Tim…I am relieved you found the correct St. Stanislaus – I had to look at it twice to make sure…good research. You found Kostka – because the more famous Stanislaus is the bishop who was murdered by a Polish king…something ala a Becket! I agree with you on the communion thing……..

  3. (mother-in-law)Rosalie says:

    Tim — Thank you for your gracious presence and your affectionate homily at my mother’s funeral.
    What pleased me about the blessing is that it was reciprocal. The politics of religion is very disconcerting — but then, you already know where I stand when it comes to inviting guests to the table to break bread. Just remember that you always had a place at Babci’s table! I am begining to think that that is the only table that counts! Lots of love, Rosalie

  4. Father Tim says:

    Phew! Glad I got the right Stan. I was pretty sure it was Kostka. And, Rosalie, I can only imagine what Babcia’s table looked like in the glory days: home-made abundance galore. A foretaste of the heavenly banquet for sure.

  5. Sr. Kathleen Keating, SSJ says:

    I taught one-half of the Gwozdz siblings in St. Joseph School, North Adams, MA. many years ago. I am still in touch with Rosalie and Helen. Stella was a great woman and the matriarch of one of the most remarkable families I have ever met in my 78 years. I met Bryna and Terrence when they were children so they would scarcely remember me. I am so sorry I missed the funeral but I was away at the time. I certainly would love to have seen all 89 of the immediate family gathered. I had a great chat with Rosalie on the phone about you all.

    I, too, lament the Communion situation but still dream of the day when we all share Eucharist together at the same table. However, much of what I have shared with the Gwozdz family has provided a thanksgiving banquet for me.


    Sr. Kathleen

    With fond remebrance

    Sr. Kathleen Keating

  6. Father Tim says:

    Sister Kathleen — thanks for being in touch! Rosalie is actually visiting with us as of today and spoke highly of you over our lobster dinner. Many blessings, Tim+

  7. (mother-in-law)Rosalie says:

    Why am I not shocked that I was found out eating my favorite dinner, lobster! Yes, Babci cooked lobster for my birthday one year – I entertained it in the bathtub with a safetypin attached to a piece of ribbon since it was delivered the eve of my birthday. Funny that while I remember playing with it, I do not remember eating it!!!

  8. (grand daughter in law) Stephanie Gwozdz says:

    Hi Tim,
    This is the 1st that I am seeing the wonderful and HONEST! I to, was in the same situation, not receiving communion while my immediate family members do. (I am methodist) Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would all be able to receive together some day?? I do not know if that will ever happen…but can be optimistic…I actually think Episcopal might be a good fit for us someday…
    Thank you so much for delivering @ Babcia’s funeral, was a wonderful tribute! I wish I was around for the days of the glorious feast at the Gwozdz homestead…..I am sure a meal to remember….

  9. Father Tim says:

    Thanks for stopping by the blog — you never know what you’ll find here. See you at the next (large) family get-together!

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