Funeral of Mary Byrnes
Aug. 5, 2016
1 Thess 4: 13-18
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
Note that St. Paul doesn’t say that we shouldn’t grieve at the death of our loved ones. Jesus wept at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus (John 11:35), even tho, presumably, he knew what he was about to do!
But St. Paul tells us not to “grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” By “the rest,” he means the pagan world in whose midst these mid-1st-century Christians lived at Thessalonica. Is there anything more grievous, anything sadder, than the mourning of people who don’t believe in God or don’t believe in the resurrection, in life after death? who believe that this life and its transient joys and inevitable sorrows are all there is? who believe that, in the words of a catchy but cynical tune of the late ’70s, “All we are is dust in the wind”?
Actually, there is something sadder, something more grievous than the mourning of unbelievers, of those “who have no hope” because they don’t know “that Jesus died and rose” (4:14) and “thus we shall always be with the Lord” (4:17). What’s sadder is the death of someone who lived like a pagan, someone who died unrepentant of his or her sins and left loved ones mourning in fear for his or her salvation.
In his preaching Jesus constantly invited us—all of us, for all of us are sinners, after all—to repent and turn to him. And he made those who came to him welcome, healing souls as well as bodies. But he also had stern warnings for those who refuse to repent, refuse to prepare themselves for judgment: words like “depart from me, you evildoers” (Matt 7:23) and “they will be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:12; cf. 25:30).
On the other hand, while we’re alive, it’s never too late to turn to Jesus with a plea for forgiveness, as we learn in the gospel passage immediately before the one I read, the passage about the so-called “good thief” executed for his crimes alongside Jesus, who asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom and was promised paradise that very day (Luke 23:39-43).
How refreshing to hear a life story and the virtues of someone like Mary Byrnes! As you heard Diane [Ruedi] describe, she embodied kindness to people and to all God’s creatures. She also suffered patiently for 3 long years—unintentionally also giving her children the chance to grow in holiness by patiently attending to her needs. And she welcomed the sacraments of our Lord Jesus for a final time last week.
The people whose passing from us to the house of the Father we mourn are people who, as best we can see, lived virtuously, lived like Jesus as much as we frail humans can—worshiping God faithfully, practicing kindness, patience, generosity, chastity, humility, etc. But our mourning isn’t like that of those without hope—hope of eternal life, hope of God’s tender mercy. Our hope is ever in “the living one” who “has been raised” from the tomb (Luke 24:5-6),
who will snatch up all his faithful people to be with him always, raising them too from their graves, to “shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament,” to “be like the stars forever” (Dan 12:3)—not the Hollywood stars, but the most resplendent stars of God’s creation, resplendent because they radiate God’s own glory, God’s own light, God’s own goodness. We pray that Mary enjoy such splendor forever and that, in God’s good time, we may join her in the Father’s house, in the place “prepared for us from the creation of the world” (cf. Matt 25:34).