The following is the homily given by Father Brian Bachmeier at the funeral mass for Charity on January 22nd, 1998:
Last night we gathered in prayer and heard a beautiful, moving testimony to Charity by her mother, Judy. In fact the funeral director today said that it was the most moving thing he has seen in 22 years in the business. We could have filled the baptismal font with the tears that were shed last night.
Last night we gathered in the evening in the darkness of night and had a chance to really mourn the loss of someone who was loved. The funeral Mass however is suppose to have a little different focus. We gather today in broad daylight and the church encourages us to gradually shift the focus of our grief away from the natural sorrow in the direction of joy. Today we gather for an occasion that is both tragically sad and yet at the same time hopeful and joyful.
The funeral Mass of a Christian always has this bitter-sweet quality and I think today’s celebration even more so than ever. It’s sad to see someone as young and as vibrant as Charity leave us so suddenly. Yet, at the same time, this sadness cannot be the final word for us as Christians. For pagans and atheists a death like Charity’s points to a random, chaotic and senseless world with no purpose or meaning. For them, personal tragedy leads only to despair. Life on this earth is nothing more than a sadistic riddle.
But that’s not the case for us as Christians. We know that there is a life after this one; one where the sorrows and pains of this present earth will finally be healed once and for all. There is someone up there who loves us and who does what is best for us, calling us home eventually to spend eternity with Him. And only this hope of heaven can put our life on earth in its proper context and give it any meaning. We know by faith that death is only a door to a new and better existence.
We gather today at this funeral Mass really for a number of reasons. First of all to thank God for the beautiful gift of the life of Charity Mae Kohlman for 16 years. We truly need to thank God for this. Secondly, we gather to pray for her and to commend her soul to God on this day that the Lord may cleanse her of any faults and bring her quickly to His heavenly home. Finally, we also gather to receive the grace of consolation and strength from God and from His people gathered together.
As the last rite of the church the funeral Mass is supposed to direct the flow of our grief to some sort of resolution. We need to walk out of here assured that Charity is okay. Her life will go on in peace and she wants ours to as well. Now, I’m not saying by all of this that enough nice words will somehow remove all of the pain because they won’t. The gospels tell us that even Jesus wept at the death of a close friend. But I am saying that for Christians death is not the final word on the human condition. The resurrection is. And that’s what the funeral Mass is all about.
Charity’s life is not ended now. It is just changed, and we believe changed for the better. Just listen again to Jesus’ consoling words from today’s gospel that make this point so well. In this reading Jesus is addressing His disciples just hours before His own tragic death and He tells them these words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God. Have faith also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places. I go to prepare a place for you and I will come back again and take you to Myself so that where I am you also may be.”
Last Sunday, in the middle of the night, Jesus came back again and took Charity to Himself so that she will be where He Himself is. He found her prepared, as a new godmother, who had especially curled her hair that evening in order to look her best when she received the sacrament of Confirmation the following day. She died with a peaceful smile on her face.
And you know, this is not a totally sad occurrence. It is definitely sad for us to see her go but she died in peace and we believe that she now lives in peace. Our ultimate goal for all of us must always be eternal life. Charity just gained it a little sooner than we expected.
To conclude this afternoon as we did last night, I think it’s best to again close with the words of Charity’s mother, Judy. The night before Charity passed away Judy prepared a card for her daughter for her confirmation. The words she wrote in it are so deeply prophetic. The first line that she wrote said, “Charity Mae, I do hope today that you will come closer to the Lord and open your heart to Him.” Judy, your words were fulfilled in a much deeper way than I think you ever expected. Although Charity never made it to her confirmation ceremony, she was the first in the class to be confirmed last Sunday.
As I said last night we can’t walk out of here totally depressed. Saddened by her loss most definitely, yes, but despairing and crushed absolutely not. Charity kept her heart problem a secret because she didn’t want people’s sympathy here on earth and where she now is she surely doesn’t want us feeling sorry for her either. We will feel pain for a time, that’s normal, good and natural. But our faith gives us a confident hope that Charity is in a better place now. A place where we can join her someday. A place where she can intercede for us now. A place where she will be a guardian for her little godchild and sister, Summer.
Our second reading told us that the only things that last are faith, hope and love and that the greatest of these is love. Our love for Charity does not end with her death. It keeps us connected with her right through death until we see her beautiful, smiling face again.
Fr. Bachmeier is Associate Pastor at Sts. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church, Fargo.