06 March 2008

A funeral homily

Tomorrow I will celebrate a funeral Mass for a parishioner and thought some of you might want to read the homily I will preach. The readings are Wisdom 3:1-6, 9; Romans 5:5-11; and John 12:23-28.

My dear friends in Christ, may the Lord give you peace.

It is with sorrow and grief that today we gather with the mortal remains of N. to entrust her now to the “grace and mercy” of the Lord Most High (Wisdom 3:9). We gather also to support one another and to encourage each other with the assurances of faith in the resurrection of Christ the Lord and in the power of his love.

To you, N.’s family and friends, I extend my loving prayers and sympathy, and those of Msgr. Enlow and of the entire parish. We pray and mourn with you during this time of death and sorrow. May the presence of Christ and of his Church buoy you up and give you comfort and peace.

Today Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). In this agrarian image, the Lord gives us a powerful example of humility and service. If our lives are to bear fruit, if we are to be faithful followers of the Lord, we must dedicate ourselves to the service of God and neighbor, placing the needs of others even before our own.

Saint Paul has come to a profound realization of this fact of Christian life and is able to say to us, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether alive or dead, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8).

In the waters of Baptism each of us becomes the Lord’s own special possession, being united with him in his suffering, death and resurrection. The sacred minister traces the sign of the Cross on our forehead and as the water flows over us Christ places his own seal on our soul, a mark that cannot be washed away or removed. He claims us for himself and calls us to follow him by taking up our Cross and by loving God and neighbor.

The hope of the Christian faith, first given and received in Baptism, “does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). This hope is to shape and direct every aspect of our lives as disciples of Christ Jesus.

Such a life involves great sacrifice and requires that we daily cooperate with the grace Christ extends to us. To do so we must be united with the Lord in prayer. In this way, we shall come to know that,

Chastised a little they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble (Wisdom 3:5-7).
Cooperating with this grace and following faithfully after him, our souls shine like the stars of heaven and we grow in holiness; we grow in the image and likeness of God in which we have been created and we share in his glory.

Yet we know that the Christian life is not easy. It is a great challenge to place the needs of others before our own. We do not always understand God’s will and it becomes difficult to choose to trust that he knows what he is doing. In such times we would do well to look to the Cross of Christ where the Son of Man is glorified and we see the will of God made manifest.

Gazing in wonder upon the Crucified Lord we see the Good Shepherd who laid done his life for his sheep. He extends his arms on the Cross to embrace us and he bends his head low to receive us with the kiss of reconciliation. Sparing nothing for our salvation, he gave his own life so that we might live.

Through the strength and power of his love he has forever destroyed the power of sin and death for all who trust in his mercy and love. When we look upon the pierced side of Christ, we learn most clearly that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them” because nothing can keep us from the love of Christ Jesus (Wisdom 3:1).

It is, then, with confidence in the grace and mercy of Christ, that we lovingly entrust Frances to him, to the one who died for us, who said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me” (John 12:26).

Let us pray to the Father of Mercies, Lord of the living and the dead, to welcome N. into the everlasting life of heaven. May he embrace her tenderly.

"May choirs of angels welcome you,” N., “and lead you to the bosom of Abraham; and where Lazarus is poor no longer may your find eternal rest.” Amen.

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