Editor’s note: The following is taken from the homily Bishop Knestout delivered at the Memorial Mass and Mass of Christian Burial for his mother, Caroline Mae Knestout, on Oct. 27 and 28, respectively.
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples A feast of rich foods and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples… he will destroy death forever” (Is 25:6-8).
Mom was born in the mountains of northwestern Pennsylvania, into a family that came from the mountains of central and south Italy. Most of her life was lived away from those mountains, but her longevity and quiet strength was rooted in the rugged mountain stock of those places.
In the Scriptures, mountains are often the places where we encounter God. All of us throughout our lives are distanced from God because of sin. We are far from the top of the mountain.
But through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, prayer and fidelity to our vocation, we are invited to gradually climb that mountain of encounter. Our hope is that by the end of our efforts, we have reached the summit, even if the last steps of the climb are the hardest, steepest, most difficult.
I believe Mom crested that summit. She did so by passing through three waystations along the climb. By grace and faith, through her vocation as wife and mother, these waystations were home, kitchen and family. Or as the Italians might say: “Casa Cucina e Famiglia.” In these places Mom gave us the gift of a foretaste of heaven.
Bryan Colvin, my sister Jan’s son, generously put together a video of photos of Mom to share memories of Mom with everyone last evening. When you look at those photos, you see most of them are in the context of home, or in a kitchen, or amid family.
Mom found joy, purpose and meaning in these three places, these three stations where she expressed the dignity of her vocation as wife and mother.
She found joy, purpose and meaning in her decades-long career of nursing, too. But that avocation was just an overflowing of her love of home, kitchen, family. These three stations were the context, the center and the focus of much of Mom’s life.
Invitation to come home
The home is the place of shelter from the harshness of the world, where security and rest can restore us and ready us for the slings and arrows of life.
In the years when most of us were living at home in Bowie, whenever we went out, Mom always asked: “When will you be home?”
Even after we’d moved away, Mom was always inviting us to come back home, where she knew we’d be taken care of because we’d be with her.
Home is where most of life takes place. It is a symbol and an image of heaven. We speak of God’s kingdom as our heavenly home. Now we experience the consolation of our faith that Mom is in that heavenly home.
Enjoying God’s banquet
The kitchen is where we make our meals and share food with one another in conversation and communion of life and love.
Relationships of love and mutual self-gift ensure that no one has too little or too much. Mom was always — without fail — attentive to how much food we had.
“Have some more pasta! What’s wrong? Don’t you like my food?”
“Yes, I love your food, Mom! I just can’t fit any more in!”
Even at St. Agnes, after her hip surgery, as we visited, she kept trying to give us part of her meals — her grilled cheese, fruit or cookies!
It is so often around the table that we build up one another, where memories of holidays and celebrations, birthdays and special events, mark significant occasions in life. It is there that tasty rich foods and choice wines are set, adding spice, flavor and joy to life. It nourishes and sustains life.
Kitchens are places of self-sacrificial love, the place of labor or perspiration, that is needed prior to the banquet being enjoyed. Heaven is often seen as a banquet feast, an abundance of “choice wines and rich food” provided on a heavenly table.
This is what the Mass is, what we celebrate today for Mom, and each day in Church. It is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet where we are sustained and nourished by the love of God and one another.
Mom loved her kitchen, and she was devoted to attending Mass. Now we have a confident hope that she is seated at the table and enjoying the banquet at the summit of encounter with God.
The loving questioner
Our family forms us and helps us grow. Our own weaknesses are most evident to our family members, but, ideally, the strengths of our family members may compensate for our own weaknesses. Our family assists us along ascent of the mountain on which we encounter God.
During family gatherings, even as adults, Mom would pepper us with questions, making Mom expressed dignity of vocation as wife, mother sure we were well and taking care of ourselves.
“Are you getting enough sleep?”
“Are you eating well?”
“Are you cold? Do you want a blanket to keep warm?”
“Do you have your coat and hat?”
Heaven is the place where there is the communion of saints, the place where we are at one and find the joy of not being isolated and alone, but rather accompanied, supported and cared for in the fullness of life. God’s kingdom is where we join and dwell with our heavenly family.
Trust in what God will provide
In the Gospel, Martha and Mary lose their brother. Lazarus was the head of their household. He was the one who ensured security and sustenance for the family. Together, as a family, Martha, Mary and Lazarus sustained each other. With his death, their family was torn asunder, their security threatened and their sustenance at risk.
Martha is always the active one who would take initiative to approach Jesus and ask his intervention. Mary is always the one seeking solitude or ready to just listen and reflect.
Together they deal with their grief at the loss of their brother in their own ways — one by seeking confrontation and the other by seeking escape. Neither is best for dealing with loss and suffering.
Jesus makes clear what is needed. It is faith in Christ’s power over sin and death, in his resurrection and triumph over death. What is needed is trust that God will provide us with a real and eternal home, real eternal food, and a real eternal family for each of us.
In any time of loss, God seems distant: Mary and Martha say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” They have faith in the resurrection, but it isn’t rooted deeply. It’s abstract. It is a surface-level faith, a vague, distant promise, far in the future.
Jesus responds that he is the Resurrection and the Life, present to them at that moment. He is the one in whom we encounter God on the Holy Mountain. He destroys the veil that veils all people. His Resurrection is real – and he proves it, appearing right in front of them after his Passion and Resurrection.
Patience, sacrifice and generosity
Thanks, Mom, for giving us a safe, loving home and for sheltering us and caring for us. Now you can rest from your labors, for now we believe you are truly home.
Thanks, Mom, for making the kitchen a center of joy and flavor in our lives, for giving us strength to grow. Now you can eat at the table of our heavenly Father.
Thanks, Mom, for keeping us together as a family, for nurturing us and being the heart of our family and holding it together by your love and concern for each of us. Now we are confident that you are joined with Dad and Tim, your parents, brother and sister, and all who have gone before us. Our confident hope is that you are now joined with, and surrounded by, all the angels and saints — our heavenly family.
In the last year, Mom often said to us she wanted to go home. Pandemic and the burdens of age made that impossible. Sometimes the Lord asks his dear ones to give up what is most dear to them.
It is a challenge for anyone — to share in the Paschal Mystery, to die to self and rise to new life. This is the path taken by all the saints and those closest to God as they climbed toward the summit of encounter with God.
Mom rose to the challenge, meeting the sacrifice with patience. She said many times, when something of her present situation frustrated her, “I guess I’ll just go with the flow. That’s what I’ll have to do!”
She dealt with the sorrow of loss with patience and generosity and a joyful spirit, even in her hospital bed, in pain and recovering from her broken hip, she sang, “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made!”
Thanks, Mom, for making so many sacrifices for us and, especially, for these final years’ sacrifices. If you did not need them for your own holiness, your generosity of spirit and energy ensured that many others — all of your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family and friends — each climbed a little higher toward the summit to heaven.
In Memoriam: Caroline Mae Knestout
The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Pius X Church, Bowie, Md., on Wednesday, Oct. 28, for Caroline Mae (née Lucci) Knestout. Mrs. Knestout, 93, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, Oct. 21, surrounded by her family.
A native of Austin, Pa., she graduated from the West Jersey Hospital School of Nursing in 1948. She married her husband, the late Deacon Thomas Knestout, in 1954, and they moved to Maryland when he took a job with the National Security Agency in Fort Meade.
She was a resident of Bowie for more than 40 years with her husband and children. In her later years, she moved to Odenton, Md., and then to St. Martin’s Home in Baltimore, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor. She also spent four years in the 1960s in Ankara, Turkey, while her husband worked on an assignment there.
Mrs. Knestout worked for two decades as a registered nurse at Prince George’s General Hospital in Cheverly, Md., serving in the cardiac care, labor and delivery, and neonatal intensive care units. She also served as a school nurse for the Prince George’s County School System. After retiring from nursing, she worked for 15 years as a library aide in the Prince George’s County Public Library in Bowie.
Mrs. Knestout was a devoted member of St. Pius X Parish, Bowie, where her late husband was a permanent deacon for many years, frequently helping with his ministry work to the poor and hungry in the community through the parish’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul. She was also a long-time member of the Sodality group and a Cub Scout den mother for her sons.
Mrs. Knestout is survived by her sister and brother-in-law, Annette Lucci Barnabie and her husband Armand. She is also survived by her children: Janice (Robert) Colvin; Julia Peters; Rosemarie (Joe) Maslo; Robert Knestout; daughter-in- law Michelle Knestout; Bishop Barry C. Knestout; Thomas (Jaci) Knestout; Father Mark Knestout; and Brian (Catherine) Knestout. She is further survived by grandchildren and their spouses, and by great-grandchildren.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Knestout was preceded in death by her parents, John and Mary Lucci; her brother, Carl Lucci, and sister, Joan Lucci Lentini; son, Timothy Knestout; son-in-law, Bruce Peters; and grandson, Andrew Fowler.
Memorial donations may be made to the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Martin’s Home, 601 Maiden Choice Lane, Baltimore, Md., 21228-3630, or at http://www.littlesistersofthepoorbaltimore.org/donate-now/.