This past week, a wonderful friend of mine returned home to the Lord at 102 years old. I had the privilege to preach at her Funeral Mass today. Sophie was a remarkable Catholic woman and a good friend to many.
We Have Seen the Lord!
Dear friends in Christ, today, we bid farewell to our sister and to our friend, Sophie. As we commend her soul to the mercy of God and commit her body to the grave, our hearts experience a mixture of emotions. We are indeed sorrowed that such a faithful friend--a friend who has always been with us--no longer walks in our company. There is no one in this church today who remembers the world without Sophie in it. For 102 years she walked along the road with us, and we are deeply sorrowed by her departure.
Our sorrow, however, is assuaged and consoled by a peaceful and permeating joy. We look back upon Sophie’s life, her example, her friendship, and now even her death, and we are able to say with the two disciples from today’s Gospel, “Were not our hearts burning within us as we walked together on the road?” Today, our Catholic Faith--a Faith that Sophie practiced, lived, and loved--brings to us immeasurable consolation and joy.
Sophie’s long pilgrimage of Faith began on the day of her baptism when she became a daughter of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. For 102 years, Sophie--as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and friend-- has been following Christ and being perfected by Christ. Although Sophie has passed beyond our sight, our eyes are opened to the miracle that has taken place. All this time while we walked with Sophie, Christ was walking along with us. He was teaching us, loving us, and drawing us closer to himself. What made our walk with Sophie so amazing--what made our hearts burn within us--was that Christ was there all along the way!
Whenever a new priest or seminarian arrived at St. Mary’s, after I showed them the church, I would walk across Cabot Street so that they could meet Sophie. Even this past spring, I was with a van full of college students on our way to a book discussion and I detoured so that we could all go in and say hello to Sophie. It is true, that in part, I would do this because I wanted Sophie to feel the closeness of others. But, it is also the case, that I wanted others to meet Sophie and to be moved by her example.
I met Sophie when she was just a young woman of 84. In those days, she was still attending daily Mass, travelling the North Shore to attend every wake and funeral, and was cooking intimate Sunday dinners for twenty or so people. We don’t always get what we deserve in life, but Sophie did in fact receive in return the love that she poured out upon others. The devotion which Sophie showered upon her family and friends was returned in kind. During these past years, Sophie’s family and friends have cared for her and treated her with such remarkable dignity and respect. I know that I speak for all of those who love Sophie when I say to her family, “Thank you for your great devotion to her.”
In today’s Gospel, we can imagine the intensity of the conversation between Jesus and those two disciples. One of the things I always found remarkable about Sophie was how passionately she experienced everything. I always loved when Sophie would laugh so hard that she couldn’t catch her breath. When someone died or was diagnosed with an illness, Sophie would cry. She would cry intensely. She felt everything in life and she felt it deeply. I remember one time coming to visit her, and as I came through the back door, I could hear Sophie yelling. She was watching some congressional hearing on the television and she was red-faced and screaming at the television. At first, I tried to calm her down, but then it occurred to me, “She’s been like this her whole life and she’s in her 90’s, so maybe she knows something that I don’t.” Sophie lived life fully. She mourned with those who mourned and she rejoiced with those who rejoiced.
As we look back upon her beautiful life and example, there must be something in all of us that asks, “Were not our hearts burning within us as we spoke along the road?” Does not her life and example awaken in all of us a deeper appreciation for Christ and His Church? Sophie was through and through, a Catholic. She loved her Catholic Faith. She loved the sacraments. She loved the Eucharist. She loved Jesus. She loved the Church.
In today’s Gospel, after the two disciples are given the Eucharist, Jesus vanishes from their sight. That is because Jesus remains with them in the Eucharist. The two disciples race back to the upper room where the apostles are all gathered together and they recount what had happened to them. Sophie came to this church every day (when she was able) so that she could be fed by the Lord’s Body and Blood. And then, she would race back to her kitchen table and spend the rest of the day welcoming and feeding the countless visitors and friends who would gather at her home. There, around her table, people encountered Christ. Around her table, our hearts burned within us as Christ spoke to us. Through Sophie’s friendship, example, and charity, Christ was speaking to us and forming us. He was with us and our hearts burned within us.
In today’s Holy Mass, we pray for Sophie. We pray that the fire of Christ’s love purify her. We pray that on the Day of Resurrection her body will be raised up. By praying for Sophie, we return to her the love that she showed to all of us.
Dear friends, we too are all pilgrims making our way through this life. I consider it an extraordinary manifestation of God’s providential love, that he gave to us the privilege of Sophie’s companionship along this path. God wants all of us to love him and to follow him. This is why he sent his Son into the world. This is why he gave us our friendship with Sophie. Through her friendship, through her example, and through her witness, Christ drew near to us. He spoke to us. He made our hearts burn within us.
After walking with us for 102 years, Sophie was called to the Father’s House. May she find eternal joy in the Heavenly Banquet. May she be warmly welcomed by all of those whom she served and loved throughout her life.
More than this, I pray that we will neither waste nor squander the great gift that we were given. So many people in the world are looking to find meaning. They question whether life has any ultimate purpose or not. They don’t pray. They don’t have faith. They don’t receive the sacraments. They are lost and are searching for hope. They need a friend who will walk with them, who will bear witness to them. They need someone whose heart burns within them. They need someone to do for them what Sophie did for us. They need someone who, by word and by example, allows others to know the nearness of Christ.
Our hearts are burning within us today because, through Sophie’s friendship, we encountered the Risen Lord Jesus. All of us, who have walked with Sophie, who have witnessed her Catholic example, and who have been blessed by her friendship, it only makes sense that we ought to do the same for others. It is not enough for our hearts to burn within us. Our hearts must burst open and share the good news. The two disciples did it on that first Easter evening. Sophie did it by her friendship and witness. And now, we are called to join our voices to theirs: Let all who are searching for meaning, all who feel distant from God; let all who are despairing, all who are trapped in sin, all who feel overwhelmed by weakness, emptiness, and fear; let all who are approaching the end of their own life and all who are only at the beginning of their life; let everyone know the news that will change their life, the news that changed our life. The news that made our hearts burn within us. The news that we encountered through the life of this good woman and this faithful disciple. Let all the world know this joyful and life-changing news. Yes Sophie, because of you, because of your friendship, because of your love, and because of your faithful Catholic life, because of you, all of us here today have hearts that burn within us and we are able to say with profound gratitude and with joyful conviction: "The Lord is Risen. We have seen the Lord!"