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Friday, December 16, 2016

A garland of celebration

Here is the text of the homily I prepared for the funeral that was celebrated today.  May the angels take him into paradise; may the Lord enfold him in His mercy as he discovers the reward of eternal life.


Funeral homily for Orvel Lepine

Les amis et les parents de notre cher frère Orvel se trouvent ici ce main.  Nous sommes venus afin d’offrir une prière pour lui et d’exprimer nos vives condoléances à sa femme bienheureuse, à ses enfants bien-aimés et à ses petits enfants qui lui ont toujours été chers.
Friends and family members of our dear brother Orvel are here this morning.  We have come to offer a prayer for him and to express our condolences to his beloved family, his beloved children and the grandchildren who were so precious to him.

The gospel passage chosen for this morning`s celebration recounts a moment when Jesus was gathered with his disciples and with many others who were not unlike us.  They were ordinary folk: they had families of their own, they had known their own share of successes and struggles, they supported one another, celebrated the good times and shared one another’s burdens when times were difficult.  Imagine their surprise when Jesus began to speak with them, and to tell them that they were precious in God`s eyes.  I wonder if they were perhaps confused by his choice of words.  He spoke of them as being poor in spirit, meaning that they were humble people, hardworking and honest, but not self-centred, and he called them Blessed (cf Mt 5:3).  In other words, he attributed great value to them.   As each of the Beatitudes was mentioned, those would have been more and more bewildered by the compliments that were being lavished upon them, yet this was Jesus’ way of telling them how precious they were in God’s eyes.  The same is true for us.  Each day, God tells us that we are loved.

Orvel était un homme de famille.  Il se portait toujours bienvoulant de venir en aide auprès des autres.  Dévoué à sa famille, il trouvait son bonheur entouré de ses petits-enfants, partangeant avec eux sa sagesse et bien sur sa musique.  Cert, il était conscient de ses propres faiblesses mais il serait surpris de savoir qu’on lui confie le titre de Bienheureux.
Orvel was a family man.  He was always willing to help others.  Devoted to his family, he was happiest when surrounded by his grandchildren, sharing with them his wisdom and of course his music.  Surely, he was aware of his own weaknesses but he would be surprised to know that people thought of him as blessed.

This sense of surprise is one of the trademarks of those who come to recognize how special we all are in the eyes of our God.  He has created each of us and he has entrusted a special task to each of us as well.  God created Alda and gave her the special role to be a companion to Orvel in this life: together they shared fifty-two years of married life.  They experienced their share of struggles, but there were also many experiences of joy and celebration.  Even as he faced increasing struggle due to increased challenges to his respiratory system, Orvel continued to find great joy in the company of his family and friends.  Now that God has called him Home, those who have known and loved him in this life are saddened by his parting, but we have the reassurance of our faith that brings us comfort, perhaps even surprises us, when our spirits feel most empty and unable to go on (cf Is 61:2).

At moments of great celebration and in times of great trial, we turn to our God with thankful hearts.  Saint Paul reassures us that all of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ … will be raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Rom 6:3-4).  How many times did Orvel know the joy of celebrating the baptism of one of his children, or of his grandchildren?  In each case, he looked forward to the promise of life that was to come, and his heart was filled to overflowing with pride and hope for the future.  The same is true for us today.  We can all look forward in hope to the future, for our faith tells us that each of us is destined for eternal life and the fullness of joy in heaven, in the company of our God.  This is the inheritance that we can all look forward to.

Today, though our hearts are broken, we believe that this promise is being fulfilled for Orvel.  Together we offer our humble prayers, asking God to have mercy on his soul and to look lovingly on us.  Our heavenly Father is particularly close to those who mourn.  He provides for all our needs (cf Is 61:3), placing spiritual garlands of celebration around our necks so that we will know that we have not been left alone in our grief and anointing us with the oil of gladness so that our hearts will be filled with the knowledge that he is near. 

During these days of Advent, we prepare for the Lord’s coming.  As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us give thanks to God for all that we have known and loved about Orvel, and let us ask our God, who came among us in the form of an innocent child, to accept the soul of his faithful servant into his own eternal embrace.  May Orvel rest there for all eternity and may he watch over each of us until the day that we too find ourselves face to face with God in heaven, our hearts strengthened with the knowledge that we wear a mantle of praise and a spirit of everlasting joy (cf Is 61:3d).
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