This morning, we celebrated a funeral for a woman who has been part of our parish for many decades. Here is the text of the homily I prepared for the occasion.
Funeral homily for Sheila Munro
Yesterday, the Church celebrated the liturgical Memorial of Saint Polycarp, a Bishop who lived in the second century after Christ. In the early years of the Church, it was not easy to be a Christian, and yet because people like Saint Polycarp had to truly stand up for their faith, we have the treasury of their lives and their examples as role models to help us to live our faith today.
Sheila Monro may not have considered herself to be a saint – certainly not to the stature of Saint Polycarp and the many other holy men and women who are part of our spiritual heritage, yet we have come to this place today to entrust her eternal soul into the loving care of our Father because she spent a great deal of her life living alongside us, sharing with us both her struggles and her triumphs, but most of all her faith and her love.
Every Christian is called to be a saint – to live in the presence of Jesus in heaven. Jesus himself told us what we need to do while we are still here on earth in order to get to heaven. In the gospel that was proclaimed this morning, he says that we should practice poverty in spirit (Mt 5:3); that we should be close to those who mourn the loss of those they have loved in this life (cf Mt 5:4); that we should be meek about our own talents and gifts (cf Mt 5:5); and that we should hunger and thirst for that which is right (cf Mt 5:6). Those of us who hope to be saints should begin by practicing mercy toward those who share the journey with us (cf Mt 5:7). We should thirst for righteousness (cf Mt 5:6) and not be afraid to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, especially when they are being wronged. As often as possible, we should strive to be artisans of peace (Mt 5:9) even if to do so might mean that we are at risk of being persecuted by others (cf Mt 5:10).
This is the blueprint that each of us must follow. This is the advice that Jesus offered again and again to our sister Sheila as she faced obstacles as well as successes in her life. From her struggles, she leaned to find the source of hope in her faith and that faith was an extraordinary source of strength for her. She was still very young when she found herself a widow with many mouths to feed, yet she carried on, relying on the friendships she had forged among those who call Saint Peter’s their spiritual home, and returning again and again to the words of Jesus’ first disciples.
At moments when she may have had doubts, perhaps the words of the apostle John that we heard today were heard, if only as a whisper, but a whisper full of hope and promise: Beloved, we are God’s children …; what we will be has not yet been revealed, but what we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2). All the hope that is contained in these words has now come true for Sheila. All the promise that they speak of has now been fulfilled. At last, she is standing at the gates of heaven. Reunited with her beloved husband and her cherished daughter, she is being rewarded for her many years of faithfulness.
During the years of the second World War, Sheila worked as a nurse in the step-down units where she would care for patients who had been wounded and operated on in the MASH units. Perhaps it was there that she first encountered death, but only after having completed her own journey in faith is she now fully able to understand the full truth of what she was witnessing then. The writer of the letter to the Romans tells us: all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death (Rom 6:3). In the simple act of having water poured over our heads, we have all been buried with Christ … so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so too, we will walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:4).
She who once opened her door to many of us and welcomed us into her home now stands ready to welcome us at the door of heaven. She who always had room at her table to welcome us now sits at the banquet table in heaven. She may never have considered herself to be a saint, but we who have known her, we who have shared a part of her journey in faith can be assured that she has been granted the reward of all the saints: a place in the Father’s house, with Saint Polycarp and all the other saints. One day, we will see her again; until then, we must continue our own journey of faith, sharing the talents and gifts that have been entrusted to us so that others who share our journey will have a glimpse or two of the glory of heaven that awaits us.