20 April 2024

Funeral Homily for Ethan Mahoney

The Funeral Mass for Ethan Harold Mahoney

Mike and Becky, Quinlan, Wyatt, and Ainsley,


Extended Family,

Classmates and Friends of Ethan,


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.”

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