17 July 2014

Homily - Funeral for Jeanne Marie Behrensmeyer-Harroun

Homily for the Funeral Mass for
Jeanne Marie Behrensmeyer-Harroun

Dear brothers and sisters,

The reality of death is a curious thing, for it has the power both to separate us and to bring us together. It was only a few short weeks ago that it brought many of us together in this same church even as it separated us physically from a member of our family; it has done so again today as we pray and mourn at Jeanne’s death.

Regardless of whether it is expected or not, death, we know, is never easy. The discomfort it causes – the grief, confusion, and questions it causes – reminds us that death is not part of human nature; it was not part of God’s original plan, but since the Fall of Adam it has entered Creation and makes it effects felt.

Each one of us has within us a desire for immortality; we see hints of this desire in our as yet unfulfilled yearnings. It is this hope for immortality with which the souls of the just are full (cf. Wisdom 3:). What is this immortality for which the just hope?

Too often we think of immortality as a mere absence of physical death, of life as we know it without an end. But is this truly that for which we yearn? Is it enough that we simply never die? Some may think so, but, if we are honest, we know that “to live always, without end - this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable.”[1]

When he reflected on this notion of immortality following the death of his brother, Saint Ambrose said that

death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life, because of sin ... began to experience the burden of wretchedness in unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.[2]

It takes only a short period of reflection on life – even with its many joys and pleasures – to know his words are true, that this sort of immortality would be a great burden. This is why J.R.R. Tolkien suggested that death is not simply the Doom of Men, but also the Gift of Men.[3]

If this is so, why is the hope of the just full of immortality? The just hope for immortality rightly and properly considered whereas we too often fall into “the hideous peril of confusing true ‘immortality’ with limitless serial longevity.” We do not make the distinction between “Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time.”[4] True immortality, the immortality for which we hope, is not a clinging to time, but a freedom from time. This freedom from time can only be found in one not bound by time, by the One who created Time, by the One who, in the fullness of time, took on our humanity; this freedom from time can only be found in Jesus Christ, in him who has died and yet now lives.
So very often in his earthly ministry, Jesus went up the side of a mountain - as he does in today’s Gospel - to teach his disciples. He still sits as a teacher today and teaches us from the mountainside about death and about life.

Like so many of his followers before, we have gathered here at this mountain – at this sanctuary of the Lord - with confused emotions and mixed feelings. There is something about Jesus that continually draws us toward him; there is something different about him, about the words he speaks, he teaches with authority and by loving example, and so we know his words to be true. We have seen his power and we have experienced his love. For this reason we follow him and in our grief we come here to this mountain that he might teach us, that he might comfort us, that he might give us peace. 

Jesus sets before us today the characteristics of one who seeks to follow him and so share in his glory. All who follow Christ are called to conform their lives to his, to share not only in his death but also in his Resurrection.

We see in the Beatitudes the example of Jesus, for it was he who became poor for us; it was he who mourned for Jerusalem; it was he who showed us the beauty of being meek; it was he who spent countless days fasting for us; it was he who brought the infinite riches of the mercy and love of the Father for us through his death on the cross. He calls us now to follow him in all things and, having done so, we, too, “will be called children of God” and we will be united with him in Christ (Matthew 5:9; cf. Romans 8:39).

His children are born from the waters that flow from the pierced side of Christ. Entering into the sacred waters, all who are baptized die with Christ and rise with him in newness of life, receiving the promise of the resurrection of the body on the last day by which they will share in his immortality, in his freedom from time, in his eternal life.

Here, though, we often stumble and grope for words. An eternal life as we know it now is not what we desire, yet we know that we long and yearn for something more profound, something deeper, something that we cannot easily put into words. Pope Benedict XVI sought to express what is that we mean by eternal life and clarifies what we mean by a hope full of immortality:

To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality — this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.[5]

This is the joy that cannot be taken away from us, that does not diminish. It is the joy of being loved by God, a love from which the just cannot be separated (cf. Romans 8:37-39).

Today, then, we have come to entrust our sister, Jeanne, to the Lord, to ask him to fulfill the promise of eternal life given to her in Baptism. We pray that she may be plunged into that ocean of infinite love and know nothing but joy and gladness. This is the life promised to those who conform themselves to Christ Jesus, to him “who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed interceded for us” (Romans 8:35). May she be at peace this day and abide with the Lord in love (cf. Wisdom 3:). Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 10).
[2] Saint Ambrose of Milan, De excessu fratris sui Satyri, II, 47.
[3] Cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Milton Waldman, 1951. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: A Selection Edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the Assistance of Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 147.
[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to C. Oubuter, 10 April 1958. In ibid., 267.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 12.

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