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Celebrating the Life of a Spiritually Free Harriett

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Memorial Mass Coverage

Memorial Mass in Honor of Harriett Zych

On the first day of my private but guided retreat, my spiritual director had me focused on the concept of Spiritual Freedom. “Spiritual freedom is the grace of self-possession, enabling us to live a well-ordered life, with God at the center of everything, such that our way of choosing begins to proceed not from our ill-ordered attachments but more from our authentic desire to love as Christ loves.” In other words, a spiritually free person is someone who has self-mastery. Someone who has grown in the life of grace and has authentically lived Catholic life filled and moved by the same love of Jesus.

Concretely, I saw that kind of life in the person we honor in this Mass, Harriett Zych. Known to many as Harriett, she was a woman, who deeply lived by the Spirit. It is hard to describe Harriett just by words because she was a workaholic. She’s served not only for the City of Oakley but also for her community of St. Anthony which she dearly loved. Her free-spirited attitude was very contagious. It would not be overstating to say that everyone in the community knew her because they do. It is hard to miss this jolly and joyful fellow.

I’ve picked as Gospel reading, the Beatitudes as I find Harriett’s life very true to what they exemplify. The Beatitudes essentially identify the kind of happiness that Jesus wants us to follow and to look for. They serve as guideposts that will lead us to true and lasting happiness, to blessedness, to righteousness and to spiritual freedom!

Among the eight beatitudes, let me point out two of which I find very descriptive of the life of Harriett:

1. “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) We should know by now what this beatitude signifies for we are indeed poor in spirit. By being poor in spirit, we acknowledge, embrace and NOT deny our sinfulness. In so doing, we subject ourselves to total dependence on God’s mercy as well as His divine providence. We, who are poor in spirit, are “meek” or “humble.” We subject ourselves completely to faith in Jesus Christ.

Eleven years ago, still fresh from ordination, I met this woman who was shorter than I am (I’m 5’4 by the way so go figure how tall she was – pun intended). I was having a hard time looking for the parish office as I was to report to the then parish administrator, Fr. Olman Solis. It was my first drive to Oakley (to the boonies they say!) As she saw me helpless and seemed lost, she approached me with a smile on her face. “Where are you going little fellow!” (Wow, look who’s talking!) she asked. “I’m looking for the parish office. Can you help me?” I asked. “Well, it’s your lucky day, you’re just standing right in front of it!” It wasn’t really the front office but, yes, I was standing right in front of the gate where upon entering you’ll see a small fountain! Wow, little me, little woman and a small fountain! I sure was up for something really interesting in St. Anthony. Then, I went inside the parish office and saw the not so little and small, Fr. Olman!

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Today, with COVID-19 and all, we see people’s refusal to trust in God. Harriet spent her life consistently trusting God’s power and aid. Despite her physical stature, she stood tall against all odds. She never gave up. At the time when she was so ill, I can hardly see her give up. She was always ready. I would oftentimes hear her say to me, “Father, I am ready! Whatever happens, I am prepared!” She was indeed poor in spirit but rich grace. Unless, we possess poverty in spirit, true happiness is unattainable.

2. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Clearly, by pure of heart, Jesus was teaching His disciples that we cannot be happy if we are not true to ourselves, that is, if we lack self-possession. The purest of heart is morally pure, honest and sincere. God’s ultimate aim is to "change" the hearts of men; to purify the hearts of sinners like you and me that we may SEE God. The heart is the center of all our actions, our thinking, and our decision-making. What comes out from our mouths are what our hearts desire and think about. God wants to purify our hearts that it may SEE Him and that all our actions will be directed to Him and to Him alone.

Moreover, the pure of heart is able to discern the presence of God in others and in the small and ordinary events of their lives.

During my sacramental encounters with Harriet, with her son, John and at times, with members of the Columbiettes, she had sincerely expressed to me that she was in pain. She was at the stage of her life when she was so dependent on people around her especially family members. It is hard to see someone who had lived her life in selfless service to others with hard work and diligence, at the time when she could hardly move by her own physical strength. I administered the last rites to her at the time when, we were also quarantining at the rectory due to COVID-positive exposure. It was a virtual administration. I could hardly hear her from the other line, but she was actively responding as I go over the rite with her. Even at that very last moment of seeing her alive as she died the very next day, she was composed, calm, peaceful, and was truly ready like she said she was. From the other line, I was shedding some tears. I was well aware that it was just a matter of time until she expires. Before that conference ended, she expressed to me her gratitude like she always does: “Thank you, father. I do love you!” Those were her last words to me. Words that I will forever cherish in my heart.

Dear Harriet, words are not enough to describe how I appreciate your person. You’ve inspired a lot of us including me. It was indeed a wonderful chapter of my priestly life in St. Anthony worth remembering. John would always tell me how you have appreciated my weekly visits to you and how inspired you were of the reflections I shared. Well, I’ve appreciated you even more than you probably knew. You have a special place in my heart which I will forever relish. Rest in God’s embrace and peace. You may have left us behind, but your inspiration has been so great worthy of our remembrance. Please pray and intercede for us in heaven.

It may be hard to become a spiritually free person, but Harriett has shown us as an example that it is possible and that we can by the grace of God. Let us keep one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and keep Harriett always in our prayers.

God bless us all!

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