Friday, February 10, 2012

Homily at the Funeral of Patricia Douglas

Before sharing some thoughts with you all, I must say a few words to Pat’s family.  The first is a word of sympathy from Archbishop Michael Miller, who asked me to represent him today. Although Pat had long retired from her employment with the Archdiocese by the time Archbishop Miller arrived, he was very grateful for the volunteer service she offered for many years afterwards.

I also would like to convey to the family the condolences of another priest who worked closely with Pat, Msgr. Mark Hagemoen. He had hoped to be with us, but the timing of the funeral made it impossible.

Msgr. Hagemoen wrote "I remember Pat fondly, both in terms of her work at Catholic Family Services, and on the Advisory Council for the Archbishop. She certainly was a dedicated, wise, and generous member of the local church, and someone who helped a great many people in their various personal journeys."

And there is another person I need to mention: Pat's very dear friend, Sister Kathy Dunne, a Cenacle Sister from Louisiana. Sister Kathy called me this morning to say how much she wishes it were possible for her to be here with us. There is no doubt that she is united in prayer with our Eucharist this afternoon.

If you asked me for a single word to describe my friend Pat Douglas, the word would be healer. She joined a healing profession when she became a nurse. She embraced one of nursing's greatest therapeutic challenges when she specialized in psychiatric nursing. She devoted herself to emotional healing in her work as executive director of Catholic Family Services, our church counselling agency.

As a mother to her children, both in childhood and adulthood, she sought to be a healing presence.

In her service on the archdiocesan Advisory Council, she helped to heal those wounded by the Church and, indeed, helped to heal the Church itself.

And in later life, spiritual direction—the work of strengthening and healing wounded hearts—became her great interest. Our last conversation concerned her desire for further studies in this area.

By the way, I recall that conversation very well. Since I feel the effects of middle age rather keenly myself, and Pat was more than a dozen years older than I, when she talked about further studies I said something non-directive and encouraging. Something like "are you nuts?"

Pat was indeed very knowledgeable about the human person, about the human psyche.

But she was a Christian, not a Freudian. She believed that the greatest healer, the source of the deepest and most complete resolution of fear and sorrow, is Christ. To her, the person of Christ and his saving action was the source of the answers to life's crises.

If she were here, Pat would ask us to turn to this source in the face of our sorrow and confusion. A matter of fact woman in many ways, she would ask us bluntly: so what do you believe?

Perhaps we have heard the Christian story too often. (They say familiarity breeds contempt.) Have we, perhaps, lost the ability to apply the saving story of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection to our own circumstances? Every funeral is a chance to enter into this sacred story, which sustained our ancestors even in unspeakable sorrows.

Pat was convinced that it is—or can be—"the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction," as St. Paul says in the first chapter of Second Corinthians. She believed that "as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."

But how does this happen? How does God comfort us? How does sharing in Christ's sufferings open the door to consolation?

St. Paul begins to answer these questions by telling us that we are children of God (and who is more ready to comfort than a parent?). But he goes a step further, and ties it all in with suffering. He says we are not only children but also heirs of God—and joint heirs with Christ "if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him."

St. Paul says that it's precisely in suffering that we are most closely connected to Jesus. He is already our fellow human being in his human nature; but we really become "one of the family" by sharing in his suffering.

Still, how does sharing with Jesus as an "heir" address our pain and suffering, except in giving it some extra dignity? Paul again: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us."

There's the answer: what we inherit with Christ is the kingdom. What we share with him is his resurrection, his glory.

In other words, although there is no answer on earth that fully addresses all our losses, there is an answer in heaven that completely redeems them. Earthly pain, accepted in union with Christ, leads to eternal life. As one old Quaker saying has it, "no cross, no crown."

We have become so secular and immediate in our thinking, even our religious thinking, that we hesitate to look for the answer to life's biggest questions in the life to come. Even priests like to show how the Gospel brings answers and peace here and now (as it does, in many situations). But the big picture is the life to come, and without a lively sense of it we will never experience the full freedom that Christ came to bring.

And the number one freedom He won for us is freedom from the fear of death.
Pat knew all this, and lived all this, in a life that was not untroubled by suffering and pain. Her attraction to the Religious of the Cenacle was obviously connected to their apostolic work of spiritual direction. But I suspect it was rooted also in the foundress of the Cenacle Sisters, St. Therese Couderc, whose life is an outstanding example of free and humble acceptance of misunderstanding, suffering and anguish, through faith in the mystery of Christ.

You know, it isn't possible to speak of these things at every funeral. In some cases the congregation isn't ready to hear them; in some cases the person who died didn't believe them.

But today we mourn someone who did. Someone for whom Christian and Catholic faith opened the door to peace and healing. She would want it to do the same for us.

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