This homily requires a quick explanation. I never delivered this homily in a church, and I sincerely pray I will never have to preach one like it. This was an assignment for my homiletics class to preach a funeral homily for a seventeen year old girl who was a victim in a campus shooting. I realize that events like this actually happen in our world.
As I prepared this homily, I reflected back on when I was in the restaurant industry. The restaurant was robbed before opening one morning, and my boss, the owner, was shot eleven times; one of our counter employees, a few years younger than the fictitious victim for this homily had a gun held up, pointed at her face, and the trigger pulled. Providentially, the hand of God was at work, and the gun jammed. Ana is still one of my dearest friends. The boss, Mike, my boss, survived and took over the restaurant again a month later. I also reflected on how I would feel and what I could say if one of “my kids” (the hundreds of teenagers who I encountered in my years in youth ministry) were the victim. Just thinking about such things broke my heart; I can only imagine what those who actually face events like this in life go through. If you are one of them, my sincerest prayers go out to you.
A Funeral Homily
Wisdom 3:1-6, 9
Psalm 116 (R. I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.”
1 Cor 15:51-57
“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:57)
At times like this, we ask God, “Why?” We cry out to him in search of meaning. We ask why He would allow such a thing to happen. That’s ok. We are allowed.
Paul calls out to ask death, “Where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55) If you are like me, you sometimes want to answer, “I found it! It’s here.” How can we possibly pretend that we don’t feel the sting of death in a tragedy like this? That’s ok; it is not a rejection of God to tell him that you certainly feel the sting of death when it touches your life. But Paul is not talking about the suffering we experience at the loss of a loved one, even when that loss is so sudden and untimely. Paul is reflecting on the promise of Jesus you heard in the Gospel, “I shall raise him on the last day.” (Jn 6:40) This is the Christian hope. Even in moments of tragedy, if we live a Christian life, a life of faith, the enemy does not snatch us from the hand and heart of Christ and our Father in heaven. “Everything the Father gives [Him] will come to [Him].” (Jn 6:37) If the will of God is, as Jesus says, “that [He] should not lose anything of what [God] gave [Him],” (Jn 6:39) do we really think that God’s will is so easily thwarted?
It is not.
If we were reborn in baptism, if we live in faith and live out our faith, if we constantly struggle to remove sin from our lives, if we frequent the sacraments and cast ourselves on the mercy of God, we will be included in that great promise that Christ will raise us on the last day. That is the Christian hope. That is the center of the Christian message. That is why, when we recite the Creed during Mass, we proclaim, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
In the Eucharistic Prayer, I will pray, that God will remember Jessica, whom He has called to himself. I will ask God to grant that she who was united with your son in a death like his, may also be one with him in his Resurrection. If we see union with our crucified Lord in death itself, how much more must we see communion with Him in such a violent death imposed on an underserving soul.
There is another question that often is in our hearts at a time like this.
Let me return to that sting of death that Paul said was no more, death’s victory, which he proclaimed as hollow. That is the blessed hope that we pray that Jessica is experiencing. But death’s sting touches our hearts today. No one can deny that. So what do we do? First of all, pray. Pray unceasingly for Jessica that she may see God face to face.
And what do we do with our own suffering, our own loss?
Am I angry?
Do I feel guilty?
Should I have done something differently?
What do I do with this hole in my heart that may never be filled?
Elsewhere in his letters, Paul says that our suffering in life fills up “what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church.” (Col 1:24) Even in dark times as this, especially in times like this, we have an opportunity to unite our suffering with that of Christ — to suffer for the sake of the Church, even to offer our suffering on behalf of the soul of Jessica that she may see God face to face sooner. What an opportunity, perhaps even duty!
We can look to our Mary for an example of human suffering, of the anguish that only a mother can know. She saw her own son beaten and murdered. She held him in her arms. Once, she had held him in as an infant; now, she held him in her arms as a man, beaten and killed so we may have the chance to see Him face to face in our own eternal reward. Can we find the strength to look to her for an example, to follow that example?
For now, I realize it seems a small consolation; it will not end our suffering or bring back our loved ones. But we must constantly work to find the strength to say with Paul — and to truly trust in this — “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:57) And that victory will finally be fully realized when the words of Christ come true, when, as he promised, he “shall raise [us] up on the last day.” (John 6:40)