02 March 2018

Homily for the Funeral of Eleanor Stribling - 28 February 2018

The Funeral Mass for Eleanor Stribling

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we gather today to bid farewell to Eleanor and to commend her to the mercy of God, we cannot deny that “there is an appointed time for everything, … a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). Some may hear in this statement something of a sense of detachment or apathy. If there is a time to be born and a time to die, why do we weep and mourn today? Should we not have seen her death coming? Can we be grieved at the inevitable?

It is curious how we have come to view death as nothing more than a natural consequence of living and see death as simply a part of nature. From the vantage point of one without faith, this view seems true, but those who have faith know that death was not part of nature from the beginning; death is not a natural consequence of life, but rather an unnatural consequence of sin and of our rebellion against God. We cannot forget this, for it reveals to us something of God’s unrelenting love for us.

We can say that death is inevitable in that none of us can escape our physical death. We can also say that even when death is expected, still it catches us off guard, which somehow shows the unnaturalness of death. And we know that we grieve and mourn today because we love Eleanor, because we can no longer feel the warmth of her embrace or see the brightness of her smile. We grieve because of the unnaturalness of death, because it separates us and because we know we are meant to be together, bound together in Christ in whom we have been baptized.

When we were separated from him by sin and death, God sent his only begotten Son to take on our flesh, to die our death, and to rise triumphant over the grave, thereby breaking the bonds of death and restoring us to live. He could not forever abide our separation from him, but made himself the remedy and our reconciliation. His love is, indeed, stronger than death and breaks into time wherever he is present, most especially whenever the Eucharist – the everlasting memorial and re-presentation of his love - is celebrated (cf. Song of Songs 8:6).

If there is a time for everything, we must ask the obvious question, “What is time?” Our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine of Hippo, attempted an answer at this question in his Confessions:

What is time? Who can explain this easily and briefly? Who can comprehend this even in thought so as to articulate the answer in words? Yet what do we speak of, in our familiar everyday conversation, more than of time? We surely know what we mean when we speak of it. We also know what is meant when we hear someone else talking about it. What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know. But I confidently affirm myself to know that if nothing passes away, there is no past time, and if nothing arrives, there is no future time, and if nothing existed there would be no present time. Take the two tenses, past and future. How can they “be” when the past is not now present and the future is not yet present? Yet if the present were always present, it would not pass into the past: it would not be time but eternity. If then, in order to be time at all, the present is so made that it passes into the past, how can we say that this present also “is”? The cause of its being is that it will cease to be. So indeed we cannot truly say that time exists except in the sense that it tends towards non-existence.[1]

This is all a bit heady, I know, but it serves to show that “although God made all things good, God did not give us knowledge of everything, but God did give us the ability to study.”[2] But if we think too much about time, we can easily become confused and bogged down by that which is not fundamentally important.

Like so many other things in life, if viewed improperly, this inability to understand everything as we would like can be used by the Evil One in his attempts to separate us from the love of Christ Jesus. This is why Saint Augustine also cautions us, saying, “Often vain curiosity about things which are unknowable … separates us from God, unless love triumphs. For love calls us to certain spiritual knowledge not by the vanity of external things but by an inner light.”[3] This is why Saint Paul is confident “that neither death nor life … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” because “his love has been poured into our hearts” (Romans 8:38-39; 5:5). Can there be any doubt that the love of Christ triumphed in the life of Saint Paul? Just as the Apostle yielded to the power of Christ’s love throughout his life, and especially in his many sufferings and in his death, so, too, must we each yield to Jesus’ love throughout our lives; we must allow his love to triumph over all our desires and curiosities.

Without having had the benefit of having known her, I understand Eleanor’s love for Jesus was evident in the hospitality and friendship she extended to those who came into her life. She sought to show us what to do with this time between the day we are born and the day we die. We might say this was due to her desire to live out the Beatitudes, to conform herself ever more closely to Jesus, the true Man of Beatitude, to become clean of heart so as to receive the reward of seeing God face to Face (cf. Matthew 5:8 and 12).

Il Volto Santo / The Holy Face
To behold God is the end and purpose of all our loving activity. But it is the end by which we are to be perfected, not the end by which we come to nothing. Note that food is finished when it is consumed in eating. A garment is finished when it is completed in the weaving. Both are finished, but the former’s finish means destruction; the latter’s, perfection. Whatever we do, whatever good deeds we perform, whatever we strive to accomplish, whatever we laudably yearn for, whatever we blamelessly desire, we shall no longer be seeking any of those things when we reach the vision of God. Indeed, what would one search for when one has God before one’s eyes? Or what would satisfy one who would not be satisfied with God? Yes, we wish to see God. Who does not have this desire? We strive to see God. We are on fire with the desire of seeing God.[4]

As we give thanks to God, then for the gift of Eleanor and the impact she had on our lives, let us commend her to the mercy of God. May he cleanse her of her sins, perfect her, and make her heart like his own. May she see the Lord’s own Face and know the fullness of joy forever. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, XI.17. Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 230-231.
[2] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on Ecclesiastes, III.3. In Works of St. Bonaventure, Vol. VII: Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Robert J. Karris and Campion Murray, eds. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2005), 171.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, On Romans, 58. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. VI: Romans, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1998), 234.
[4] Ibid., Sermon 53.6. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. Ia: Matthew 1-13, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois, 2001), 86.

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