Thursday, January 5, 2017

Remembrances



Today my Grandpa, Robert Martinson, would have turned 101 years old. He died in 2009. He was a great and gentle man who brought much joy to his family. He is missed terribly. 

Today, 19 years ago, our family was devastated when my little niece was snatched away not having even reached 3 months old. That was such a sad event for our family and especially my brother and sister-in-law. This was one of those events that remind you that God doesn't always shield us from hardship and suffering but offers us a helping hand to try and make sense out of such difficult events. I remember well the love and support of so many people who attended the funeral to offer their condolences and support. Still, a day hasn't gone by since this event that I haven't remembered to pray for parents who have lost children. I guess this is one small way for me to try and put into practice a line from the Catechism of the Catholic Church I quoted last weekend during my homily

It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.
 Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 683). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. #2843

Below is the homily which somehow managed to get uploaded to my server. I don't have a hard copy anymore as it was written on my mom's old Mac computer which went to the computer graveyard years ago. 



"RAYS OF HOPE"

Homily for the Funeral Liturgy of Courtney Shereé Northrop (b. October 18, 1997-d.January 5, 1998)

     When my father called me late Monday night, I just couldn't believe the news. Only a few days before the sudden and tragic death of Courtney, I was home for a visit and rocking her to sleep in our living room. Like all of us gathered here today, the news of Courtney's sudden death was shocking and heart-wrenching. I searched the Scriptures for a comforting verse and stumbled across Luke's account of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the temple. Great joy must have filled their hearts to bring their new baby, the Savior of the World into the temple and to present and consecrate him as was their duty. And at the end of this joyful event when Mary was told of Jesus' prophetic destiny to redeem humanity, Simeon told Mary that "sorrow like sword would pierce her heart." My thoughts immediately turned toward Kim and Joe, who like Mary and Joseph, took so much pride in their new baby. I was only privileged to make two visits home to spend time with Courtney, Joe, and Kim, but in those few days I saw two wonderful parents filled with intense love for the gift of their child. I felt so proud to be a part of this family and to see these two young parents taking such pride and joy in their duties as parents. And now for some reason we do not understand, God has called Courtney back into his loving arms. To those who lack faith in Jesus it may appear that death has won some kind of victory in this event.
     We gather together today to remember that death is not the final word for Christians. We are a people of hope and a people who proclaim and believe that Jesus has gone before us and opened the gates to eternal life. Death has not swallowed up Courtney and it is not going to swallow up and destroy this family.
     Jesus Christ conquered death when he died for us on the Cross, and he asks us to put our faith in him and to trust in this victory and to come to him for healing of our broken hearts. Our Gospel reading made it so clear that we must come unto him. In the short few months that I have been a priest I have witnessed the power of God's love in Jesus Christ in profound ways. I have met people who have experienced tremendous sufferings and hardships, but because they trust and put their faith in the Lord, they have found the strength to press on and to experience the "peace that surpasses all understanding" - even in their times of trial and distress. This is not to say that there haven't been many tearful and lonely nights, somehow that's part of the whole experience and we don't escape the pain. Many people misunderstand Christianity and think that being a Christian means that you try and escape pain - quite the contrary, you hit it head on but you don't do it alone. Jesus walks you through it, puts his hand on your shoulder, cries with you, rejoices with you, and comforts you. Nothing can come between God's love in Christ Jesus, as St. Paul proclaimed in the second reading - not even death.
     But death does render a real and very painful separation. Temporary though it is, it is a great source of suffering. I believe the words of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin can be of some comfort for us in trying to grapple with the mystery of suffering and in trying to deal with the pain we feel in our hearts. He says:

"Our understanding of suffering - not merely its inevitability but also its purpose and redemptive value - greatly impacts our ministry of presence. As a matter of fact, suffering severely tests us in this regard, and the reason is quite simple. Whenever we are with people who suffer, it frequently becomes evident that there is very little we can do to help them other than be present to them, walk with them as the Lord walks with us. The reason this is so frustrating is that we like to be "fixers." We want not only to control our own destiny but also that of others. So we are frustrated when all we can do for suffering persons is be present to them, pray with them - become, in effect, a silent sign of God's presence and love." (The Gift of Peace page 47-48)

     All of us would like nothing more than to end the tremendous suffering you're feeling right now, Joe and Kim, and we too are suffering at the loss of Courtney. We all had so many dreams and expectations. But none of us can "fix" this pain or control your destiny or Courtney's destiny. We can only gather together, point to the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus, and pray that every day will reveal a ray of hope and healing within your hearts. In the end, we simply must let go and trust God. This is not easy, and I have no doubt that the days and months ahead will be filled with many tears and there will be obstacles. But again, we must remember that death is not the final word, and it no longer has a stronghold over us because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
     Joe and Kim, we are going to lift you up in prayer and will support you in every way possible. You're in God's hands now and there is always hope. Courtney has gone home to be with the Lord. You were both wonderful stewards of the gift of her life and we are all proud of you. May the Lord bless & console each one of us, especially Joe and Kim, with the peace that surpasses all understanding, "and in the tender compassion of our God, may the dawn from on high break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:79-80) 

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