20 April 2024

Funeral Homily for Ethan Mahoney

The Funeral Mass for Ethan Harold Mahoney

Mike and Becky, Quinlan, Wyatt, and Ainsley,

Grandparents,

Extended Family,

Classmates and Friends of Ethan,

Parishioners,

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The dreadful task of saying something when there is nothing to say now falls to me. I have begged the Lord to give me some small words that may bring some comfort to you. Our hearts are all broken and that is as it should be, because we love Ethan and he loves us.

There is an ancient maxim in the Church which tells us that “the law of prayer is the law of faith.”[1] This is another way of saying that the Church’s prayers are not empty words or hollow aspirations; rather, they are what the faith of the Church. What the Church believes is founded on the witness and testimony of the Apostles and the writings of the Sacred Scriptures, the testimony of God himself.

We prayed a moment ago that God, the most merciful Father, “look gently on [his] servant Ethan, and by the Blood of the Cross forgive his sins and failings.”[2] The Church makes this prayer with deep trust because “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). Our hope is born from the love of God who in Christ Jesus “died for us” (Romans 5:8). Our hope, our faith, is born from the words of Jesus himself: “And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day” (John 6:39). Our hope, our faith, is born from the love of God.

It is difficult to pray at this time. We find it difficult to say anything to God when no words can express our anguish, anger, frustration, confusion, and sorrow. What can be said when there is nothing to say? Saint Paul knew this emotional numbness and said, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26). Even the groanings of our hearts, broken out of love for Ethan, are a form of prayer

When we express our faith in prayer, we find him even in times of darkness because he offers himself to us. Persevering prayer opens the heart to receive him, as Saint Augustine explains: “Our Lord and God … wants our desire to be exercised in prayer, thus enabling us to grasp what he is preparing to give” (Letter 130:8,17).[3]

But what is it that God is preparing to give us? His own heart, broken out of love for us.

Though I cannot pretend to share the experience of losing a son or a brother, I do know something of the experience of grief, particularly the grief that follows after a tragic death. My father died just before my eighth birthday, and my mother died just two years later. Although it is not the same, the grief we experience is not altogether different. These many years since their deaths have not always been easy, but they have not been altogether unbearable, either.

As we mourn the loss of those we love so dearly, well-meaning family and friends often seek to comfort us with clich├ęs, which are generally as untrue as they are lame. Not quite willing to enter into our suffering, they turn uncomfortably to words. We hear especially these days the adage that “time heals all wounds.” The experience of life has taught me this is quite false; time may soothe our wounds and make them easier to bear, but it does not, it cannot, entirely heal them. The full healing of our wounds can only occur where time no longer passes, in the presence of Him who died for us and still bears his wounds, the marks of his love; the full healing of our wounds can only occur in the one who calls us to find our rest in him (cf. Matthew 11:29). The bad moments will continue, but good moments will also come. Likely enough, you will come to know a joy mingled with sadness, and a sadness mingled with joy.

When your sorrow hits you hardest, when it seems hope is lost, go to the Cross. Stand or kneel in the presence of the Blessed Mother and of Saint John; they will lead you to the one who “will not reject anyone who comes to [him]” (John 6:37). Look upon Christ our salvation and let his love fall upon you and he will renew you each morning (cf. Lamentations 3:23). At the foot of the Cross you will learn anew what it means to “hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord” and he “will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes” (Lamentations 3:26; Revelation 21:4).

In moments such as these words simply fail; all any of us can do is hold you tightly in our love and prayers and weep with you. Still, I wish with all my heart I had something more to say to you to offer comfort and consolation. There will long be an empty space in your hearts, an emptiness that can only be filled by Ethan, but this need not lead you to despair or despondency if you place your faith in the hands of Jesus, if you entrust yourselves entirely to him.

Remember Ethan’s love and kindness, his friendliness, and his smile. I will never forget the conversations Ethan had with me on the steps of the church even as all of you were piling into the Suburban. In your faith, hope, and love, ask God to smile upon Ethan, to smile upon him who smiled so frequently at us. Cling to one another and cling to the Cross of Christ.

Here I can only leave you with these words of J.R.R. Tolkien, which have long brought consolation to my own heart: “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”[4] If the tears have not yet come, it is okay. They will come; perhaps tonight, or tomorrow, in a month, or even several years down the road. Grieving happens differently for each of us; the only wrong way to grieve is to do so completely alone. Whenever the tears come, do not be afraid of them. In moments such as this, tears are a sign of love. Do not be afraid of them. Grief, sorrow, and tears are the price we pay for love.

May the Lord, in his loving mercy, keep you in his grace. May he console you with his love. May he bring you to rejoice before his Face together with Ethan. This is our hope, founded on the love made manifest in the Cross of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer, the one who calls us friends. Amen.



[1] Prosper of Aquitaine, Indiculus Gratia Dei.

[2] Collect 44, “Prayers and Texts in Particular Circumstances,” Order of Christian Funerals, 398.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Message for World Youth Day 2009.

[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, “The Grey Havens.”

Funeral Homily for Steven Cosner

The Funeral Mass for Steven Cosner

Dear brothers and sisters,

Even as Mother Church continues to rejoice in the marvelous wonder of the Lord’s Resurrection and his triumphant victory over the grave, we gather this morning at his altar to implore his mercy as we prepare to entrust the mortal remains of Steven to God. It is perhaps, then, a curious thing that this morning we hear the Lord say through the Apostle John, “there shall be no more death” (Revelation 21:4). The Lord Christ can destroy that ancient enemy because he has already contended with him and emerged the victor. Consequently, for those who know the voice of the Good Shepherd, death is no reason to fear, for their “reward will be great in heaven” (cf. Psalm 23:4; Matthew 5:12).


We too often lose sight of this tremendous reality and look toward death with trepidation, perhaps because of the shadows of that dark valley (cf. Psalm 23:4).

There no one will be with us, neither father nor mother, neither brother nor sister, neither lover nor friend. There science does not help us, nor art nor culture. We go alone through the dark ravine. But Christ is there; he alone, because he died for us, after living for us, and then rising from the grave, conquered death. In this way he accomplished a mysterious identification with us. He entered into our destiny so divinely and powerfully that he lives the life of each believer, as St. Paul says, “I live, yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Whenever a believer says, “I,” Christ says, “I,” in him. Whenever a believer endures his destiny, it is Christ who endures it in him.[1]

“Now the flock can walk in tranquility, accompanied by the familiar rhythmical beat of the staff on the ground, marking the shepherd’s reassuring presence.”[2] It might be said, then, that Christ leads his flock, one at a time, through the valley of death to “the holy city, a new Jerusalem,” where God himself “will wipe every tear from their eyes; and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:2, 4).

If we are to attain this blessedness, this happiness, for which each of us yearns, we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Lord Jesus who leads us “in right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:6). His name means “the Lord saves” and he cannot – and will not – lead us astray, but we can – and do – stray from him. Nevertheless, he walks alongside us and waits for us to take his hand in ours so he might lead us to heaven.

There are some today who call this hope of the Christian nothing more than a fairytale, a pleasant dream to soothe consciences, and comfort simpletons. These are those who imagine heaven to be something rather like a continuation of this life, but this is not what the Christian expects or means by heaven. Saint Paul tells us, that when death is at last destroyed, God will be “all in all” and Saint John says “God himself will always be with them as their God” (I Corinthians 15:28; Revelation 21:3). What does this mean?

When he considered what all of this means, Saint Augustine said,

In this house God’s people shall everlastingly dwell with their God and in their God, and God with his people and in his people, God filling his people, his people filled with God, so that “God may be all in all” – the very same God being their prize in peace who was their strength in battle.[3]

This is what the Christian means by heaven, by eternity: life in and with God. But how can we understand this?

It cannot be doubted that to speak in this way seems rather esoteric and raises perhaps as many questions as it answers.

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.[4]

To put it another way, “With this term "Heaven" we wish to say that God, the God who made himself close to us, does not abandon us in or after death but keeps a place for us and gives us eternity. We mean that in God there is room for us.”[5]

We have gathered today to implore the Lord to plunge Steven into this ocean of infinite love, to give them life in the full. May the Lord pour out of his healing and cleansing love upon him and give him the reward of himself, the blessed happiness for which we all hope. Amen.



[1] Romano Guardini, The Wisdom of the Psalms, Stella Lange, trans. (Chicago, Illinois: Henry Regnery Company, 1968), 100.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 5 October 2010.

[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, City of God, 17.12.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 12.

[5] Ibid., Homily, 15 August 2010.

17 April 2024

Homily - The Third Sunday of Easter - 14 April 2024

The Third Sunday of Easter (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We deceive ourselves when we say to God something along the lines of “just give me a sign so I know you are real.” The Apostles saw a sign greater than any for which we would dare to ask, and still they had trouble believing (cf. Matthew 28:17). If they who saw the clearest of signs still struggled in their faith, why should it be different for you or me?

When Christ Jesus spoke to the scribes and Pharisees before his Crucifixion, he cautioned them, saying,

An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will be the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights (Matthew 12:39-40).

And then, just as Jonah came forth from the belly of the whale to preach repentance, so did Jesus come forth from the belly of the earth to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And still we want a sign.

Detail, The Resurrection of Jesus and the Liberation of Jonah, York Psalter, Add. 54179, f. 59v

In the parable Jesus told about Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man begged Abraham that his brothers be warned by Lazarus – who had died - lest they, too, receive eternal punishments. Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:39). And still we want a sign.

The Apostles journeyed with Jesus for three years. They ate and drank with him; they laughed and mourned with him; they studied with him and learned from him; they saw the miracles he performed and knew he was crucified and buried. But when he stood in their midst, clearly alive, and they “thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:37). He showed them his wounds to prove to them that it “is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his passion.”[1] They touched him and saw his wounds, and still they were “incredulous,” disbelieving (Luke 24:41. And still we want a sign. We really are rather foolish sometimes.

What greater proof of his divinity and his resurrected life could we possibly want than his empty tomb and the testimony of those who knew him, of those who saw him in his resurrected glory, of those who watched him ascend into heaven? But, no. we often think we need something more because we are too disbelieving.

We need to set ourselves aside and trust eyewitness testimony because, as Saint Augustine tells us, the Apostles needed to have their doubts quelled for us:

It was incredible, and they had to be persuaded of the truth of it, not only by their eyes but by their hands too, so that through the bodily senses faith might come down into the heart, and faith coming down into the heart might be preached throughout the world, to people who neither saw nor touched, and yet believed.[2]

People like you and me. If this is insufficient evidence for us to believe in Jesus and to follow him, nothing will be sufficient, not even if someone should rise from the dead. We can believe because the Apostles confirmed our doubts before us and for us, which is why Saint Bonaventure says, “And so Christ proved by the use of his senses that he had truly risen, so that the disciples might be made certain, and we in them.”[3]

What do we mean, then, when we speak of the certitude of faith? By this expression, we mean to say that faith “is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie.”[4] This does not mean that questions will not arise in our hearts (cf. Luke 24:38). Rather, it means that our questions and confusions need not to be cause for unbelief because “ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”[5]

When Jesus stood in the midst of the Apostles and showed them his wounds, it is important to notice what he did not say to them.

The Risen One does not reassure his disciples that everything will be all right, that they will have no problems; he does not say that the time of suffering is over and that from now on, finally, everything will be easy.

 

The Lord does not mislead, just as He had never misled anyone during the years of His earthly life: to His disciples, He had proposed a demanding path, which also passed for them, as for Him, through the cross of a life given. The Lord does not deceive, because His resurrection does not impose a new era, a new way of life, on the world, but simply offers it, and proposes it.

 

And he offers it to those who believe that Easter is really a way of life, to those who believe that only what dies in self-giving and remains alive in love and relationship is true and eternal.[6]

The Lord Jesus simply said to them what he says to us, as well: “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36). To have faith in him is to trust in the peace he offers, a peace born from his suffering and death and resurrection.

When we want to ask – or even demand – a sign from the Lord, when questions arise in our hearts, we do well to recall that important prayer found in the Scriptures: “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)! Amen.



[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 645.

[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 116.3.

[3] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 24.53.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 157.

[5] Saint John Henry Newman, Apologia pro vita sua (London: Longman, 1878), 239.

[6] Pierbattista Cardinal Pizzaballa, Meditation for the Third Sunday of Easter, 14 April 2024.