Did I ever tell you about aunt Lil? She was great-at least by today’s Gospel standard. She’s the one who taught me to dance. She taught me the words to "Oh Danny Boy"(my name’s sake) and she taught me to celebrate. Most importantly, she taught me to serve and not to worry about being served. She never preached a sermon (formally at church) and she never ever told me that I should serve, dance or celebrate. She taught me by her actions.
Shortly after my mother died, aunt Lil, with her three children came to live with us where she took on the responsibilities of raising seven more children along with her own. One of those children, my youngest sister Dee was profoundly mentally retarded and needed twenty-four a day care. Aunt Lil ‘s husband died when she was pregnant with her last child. I never knew my uncle Jack, but today I realize that he really knew how to choose a good life’s partner.
Aunt Lil never complained. Referring to the way her newly adopted family ate, she would say things like: "If I cook five pounds of potatoes they eat five pounds; if I cook ten pounds they eat ten pounds." But she never complained. Monday was laundry day, as were Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Her only embarrassment was when my mother’s mother would visit and find four of us boys tying papers for our paper routes in my mother’s living room. Horror of horrors!
Aunt Lil died at 89 years of age. She buried her two boys, one at sixteen and one at forty-six. She continued to celebrate at daily Mass, like she did when she was taking care of all of us, until she was placed in hospice care, which she chose rather than continue treatment for cancer.
Thank you aunt Lil, for making today’s Gospel passage real for me and for all who knew and loved you: "Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave."
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago.