11 December 2008

Funeral Homily

Here is the homily I preached at a funeral this morning:

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 (Wisdom 3:9). We gather also to support one another and to encourage each other with the assurances of faith in the death and resurrection of Christ the Lord and in the power of his love.

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

Throughout his letters Saint Paul speaks of the dead as “those who have fallen asleep in Christ” (I Corinthians 15:18). Jesus, too, speaks of his friend Lazarus as not dead, but sleeping (cf. John 11:11). He spoke the same way of the little girl who had died (cf. Mark 5:39). Yet it is clear the people die, that you and I will also die. What are we to make of this?

Neither Jesus nor Paul want us to consider the dead as dead, but rather as those who are sleeping. This is why the Apostle today reminds us, “we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed every day” (II Corinthians 4:16). Because of the words of the Lord Jesus, we know that all who believe in Christ will never die. We know that Christ Jesus our vindicator is not dead but lives; nor shall we die (cf. Job 19:25). We shall fall asleep in Christ, to be awakened by him to glory. This “bodily death is a sleep from which God can awaken us at any moment.”[1]

Today Holy Mother Church celebrates the memorial of Pope Saint Damasus I. Damasus possessed a deep devotion to the martyrs of the Church, to those who gave their very lives for Christ and his Gospel. These holy men and women knew that they had already received the promise of everlasting life with Christ in Baptism and for this reason they were not afraid of their earthly death; they knew they would live.

It is was this confidence in the resurrection of the dead shown by the example of the martyrs that led Pope Damasus to write this as his epitaph:
He who walking on the sea could calm the bitter waves, who gives life to the dying seeds of the earth; he who was able to loose the mortal chains of death, and after three days’ darkness could bring again to the upper world the brother for his sister Martha: he, I believe, will make Damasus rise again from the dust.[2]
It is this same confidence that every Christian is to have.

We believe that when Christ Jesus “will at last stand forth upon the dust; whom I myself shall see” he shall indeed raise Damasus from the dust, that he will raise N. from the dust, that he will raise me from the dust (Job 19:25). This is the confidence of Saint Paul: “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence” (II Corinthians 4:14).

The resurrection of the dead is our hope; it is what encourages us each day to follow after Jesus Christ. When know that when the Lord comes again he will indeed “raise our mortal bodies to be like his own in glory” and that we shall be reunited with those whom we have lost here. How can Christ do this? How can he raise the dead? Saint Braulio tells us that,
His power is so great that it is easier for him to raise the dead to life than it is for us to arouse those who are sleeping. As we are saying all these things some unknown feeling causes us to burst into tears; some hidden feeling discourages the mind which tries to trust and to hope. Such is the sad human condition; without Christ all of life is utter emptiness.[3]
Christ is able to raise the dead because he has already conquered sin and death by his death on the cross.

It is with this confidence in the power of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ that we come today to entrust N. to the loving hands of God. As we ask the Lord to raise her from the dust of the earth when he comes in glory may each of us say with Job, “And from my flesh I shall see God; my inmost being is consumed with longing” (Job 19:27). Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 9 March 2008.
[2] Pope Saint Damasus I. In Butler’s Lives of the Saints: December. David Hugh Farmer, et al, eds. (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 94.
[3] Saint Braulio, Epist. 19. In the Liturgy of the Hours.

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