Posted April 04, 2011 in Memorials:
He Offers More Than Sympathy

by Fr. David May.

The following is excerpted from the homily at the funeral Mass of Joan and Marg. The readings were from Wis 3:1-9, 1 Cor 15: 51-57, and Lk 24: 13-35.

At a time such as this, we share with the families of Joan and Margaret both a deep sense of shock and grief and the hope which our faith offers us. The Church encourages us to turn to the Word of God for solace, light, and consolation. So let us examine together the readings for today.

 The Gospel is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They are discussing the events of the Lord’s passion and death when suddenly Jesus himself comes up and joins them on the way. They take him for a stranger and are astonished that he seems unaware of what has happened.

Have you ever had that experience? When it seems that Jesus Christ is the only one who doesn’t know what is happening down here!

"What things?" he asks. "What things?!"

In his wisdom, the Lord wants to draw out of his disciples all the pain and sorrow they are carrying. It seems that the Lord has more respect and understanding of our human nature than we do ourselves.

He knows our grief; he understands all our suffering. But he also knows that first we must speak our pain to him. First, we must cry it out.

For how will we be able to hear what he has to offer until we do so? And he has far more to offer us than mere sympathy for our plight.

One of the disciples, Cleopas by name, pours out his heart almost in a single breath.

He talks about the events of the past days, their dashed hopes, the strange, incomprehensible message of the women who had gone to the tomb and seen a vision of angels announcing Jesus as risen, the completely empty and silent tomb when the Lord’s apostles went there themselves.

Then the Lord speaks. He offers them more than sympathy because as the Risen Lord, he can offer them a hope they had not dared to imagine. He offers them a victory that comes only through suffering and death: Resurrection from the dead.

As he speaks, we learn later, their hearts were burning within. Their hope was renewed like a flame.

Only the word of Christ, only the Scriptures as he interprets them, can so enflame us, for only he, the one who suffered and died, is risen from the dead.

Was one of the passages he interpreted for them like the one we read from the book of Wisdom? That powerful reading speaks about the trial of the just person in this world.

So often the life and death of the righteous looks and feels pointless, futile—a pathway ending only in failure and destruction.

How often have I heard people who have just begun a serious life of prayer say that their troubles only really began when they started to pray!

Yes, many are the trials of the just, long and tortuous the paths of spiritual warfare.

Our sisters, Joan and Marg, knew these battles, each in her own way. Their experience of vocation had, of course, its moments of joy, laughter, and certainly humor. But they also knew times of desolation and struggle, most of which was hidden from our eyes.

Marg had her struggles with vocational discernment and living in community.

And as an iconographer, Joan must have known not only the passion of any artist who tries to respond to the call and challenge of creating beauty, but also the particular anguish of the one called to "write" the truths of our faith in the form of the icon. By all accounts, such work does not come easily.

But the reading assures us that the souls of the righteous are ever in the hands of God, that no torment will ever touch them. It assures us that they are at peace. Their hope is full of immortality because God has tested them and found them worthy of himself, like gold refined in the fire.

We believe that in the time of their visitation, they will shine forth, because grace and mercy are with the Lord’s elect. All of this the Lord assures us is true. We do not see it all, but the assurance of faith goes beyond what we can see with our earthly eyes.

Did Our Lord also refer, like St. Paul in our second reading, to the victory over death he shares with his disciples, so that with him we can cry out: O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? (1 Cor 15:55)

We soon learn in this world what St. Paul knew: that flesh and blood are not able to bear the weight of glory which is our inheritance in the kingdom of God. It is too big for us, too beautiful, too wonderful. In fact, it can weigh us down.

What is needed is a new creation, a new way of being, where the perishable body puts on imperishability, and our mortal nature puts on immortality.

Perhaps the Lord explained something of all this to the disciples as they approached Emmaus. Perhaps he also wants our hearts to realize this assurance today.

Whatever our state of being at this time, we, like our sisters Joan and Marg, are in the Lord’s hands. It is okay to wait for him to come. It is all right to not have all the answers and to struggle to trust him in a time that foils all human explanations.

Both Joan and Marg knew something of the mystery of God’s silence. In that silence is a grace that prepares us to enter more fully into the divine reality. Our foundress, Catherine Doherty, wrote beautifully about this waiting on the Lord with the trust of a little child in her book, Molchanie, The Silence of God:

"It is impossible to convey what waiting on God or waiting for God means. Of course, God is always present; God is always with us. He is always coming to us, but we are not always awaiting his arrival.

"There is a kind of waiting that is anxious…, but this is not the kind of waiting I am talking about. …. No, real waiting for him is quite different; it is quiet and peaceful. You are waiting for God to do something, although you do not know what it will be. There is immense joy in your heart.

"This kind of waiting is something like waiting for a loved one to arrive. Lovers pace back and forth when the beloved is even fifteen minutes late…. Yet waiting for God isn’t exactly like this.

"It is rather a tranquility, a certain tranquility that takes hold of you entirely, so that nothing stirs within you. You have only one thought: ‘He will come in his own time.’ There is a totality of peace. …

"Do not be disturbed. The exact hour and minute of his coming lies in his hands and in the love of his heart.

"My task, your task, is only to wait without emotional storms, without impatience or pacing. In the totality of our person we are simply to be always expecting the footsteps of the Lord. Don’t ever lose the immense peace of waiting for him." (Excerpted from the 2001 edition, pp. 79-80)

In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, the Lord can reveal himself, and after that, everything is transformed. In a second, at the breaking of the bread, he is recognizable to his disciples in Emmaus. And then he vanishes from sight!

In an unexpected, an unforeseen moment, the Lord took Joan and Margaret to himself. He alone knows the whys and wherefores, but we believe he knows what he is about. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? (Rom 11:34-35)

This, too, is part of his mystery, of his unfathomable ways. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever, amen! (Rom 11:36).


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