Believing in Jesus the Resurrection and the Life, Memorial Mass for Elaine Bruckerhoff, August 8, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Memorial Mass for Elaine Louise Landry Bruckerhoff
St. Denis Church, Ave Maria Parish, Lexington, MI
August 8, 2014
2 Macc 12:38-46, Ps 23, 1 Thess 4:13-18, Jn 11:17-27

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

Back in 1998, I had the great joy to take Aunt Elaine, Uncle Duane, and other members of our family through the excavations underneath St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. There’s a pagan necropolis there through which, in the first centuries of Christianity when to be a Christian was a crime punishable by death, our Christians ancestors used to risk their lives to traverse in order to get to St. Peter’s grave. They took that risk not just out of religious piety. As many of the inscriptions show, they were going there to pray for their loved ones who had died. Right before the emperor Constantine in the 320s was going to bury the necropolis underground to construct the first basilica dedicated to St. Peter and changed the Roman laws to allow the pagan families to move their dead loved one’s remains out to other necropolises in the city, the Christians took advantage of the change in laws to start moving their dead in. They didn’t care so much that they would have not the chance to visit their loved ones’ graves in the future. They just wanted to bury them as close as possible to St. Peter, praying that he would preferentially love those who were his neighbors awaiting the general resurrection and that he to whom Christ had given the keys of the Kingdom of heaven would open those doors for their loved ones to join him forever in Christ’s kingdom of love.

We come here to pray this morning for Aunt Elaine who died three months ago today. In today’s first reading we hear that it is “excellent and noble” thing to pray for the dead as Judas Maccabees led all his army to do for the soldiers fallen in battle. From the earliest days of Christianity, praying for the dead has been one of the enumerated spiritual works of the mercy, the way we continue to love our loved ones even after they’ve died. We make this prayer with hope, like the ancient Jews, having the “resurrection of the dead in view,” for, as we heard, it would be a “useless and foolish” thing to pray for those who have died unless we were “expecting the fallen to rise again.”

For us as Christians, though, we make this prayer for Aunt Elaine and for all the dead with even greater hope than the Jews of the second century BC, precisely because of all Jesus Christ revealed to us and did for us. St. Paul in today’s second reading reminds us that “if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so, too, will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” He told us this so that we may “not grieve like the rest who have no hope.” As Christians, we grieve whenever our loved ones are taken from us. We grieve precisely because we love them, we miss them, and we know that without them life on earth will never be the same. We grieve especially with you, Uncle Duane, with you Frank, with you Natalie, as you experience the absence of Aunt Elaine most acutely. But we mourn with hope because Christ has filled us with this hope, that, as we hear him say in today’s Gospel, whoever lives and believes in him, even if that person dies, will live and no one who lives and believes in Him will ever die. We grieve with hope because Aunt Elaine did believe in Jesus. She lived by faith in Jesus. She died united with him in the Sacraments. And so we pray with hope that because of that she is now experiencing the fullness of life, love, peace and happiness with Him.

Aunt Elaine’s life of faith, her life with Jesus, began when she was 15 days old, on May 31, 1942, when she was brought by her parents Joseph Emile and Therese, by her godparents her Uncle Albert and Aunt Adrienne, to St. Jean Baptiste Church in Lowell, Mass, to be baptized. Oblate of Mary Immaculate Fr. Albert Beausoleil poured water on her forehead three times and baptized her in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She was vested with a white baptismal garment signifying what was happening within her soul and was instructed to keep that garment white until Christ came for her. Her Uncle Albert lit her baptismal candle from the Paschal Candle to symbolize how she had been illumined by the light and fiery love of Christ and she was told to keep burning until he would come for her. St. Paul tells us (Rom 6) that when we’re baptized, we’re baptized into Christ’s death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. It’s on the day of baptism, we Christians believe, that we die to ourselves and Christ rises from the dead within us. And that’s what happened for Aunt Elaine 26,368 days ago today. We Christians know that as long as we keep that life alive, as long as we continue to keep clean our baptismal garments, as long as we continue to burn with the light and love of Christ, then death is nothing other than a change of address to a place far more beautiful than any of the beautiful houses along Lake Huron, to a mansion made by God in heaven.

Today, we come here with faith and with gratitude to God for having given Aunt Elaine the gift of faith. Later on in the Mass, as we pray the Preface for the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest will say, “Lift up your hearts!,” and you will reply, “We have lifted them up to the Lord,” a beautiful dialogue, saying that as Christians we won’t be grounded by our grief but, as St. Paul told the first Christians in Colossae, that because Christ has risen from the dead, we will “seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” But then the dialogue continues. The priest will pray, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!” and you will pray, “It is right and just,” before the priest will reply, “It is right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere, to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, Almighty and Eternal God.” Those words are easy to say on Christmas and Easter. They roll off the tongue at wedding and baptismal Masses. But they require a lot of faith at funerals and memorial Masses. It is right “always and everywhere” to give God thanks. We give him thanks today not only for the gift he gave each of us to know Aunt Elaine but also for gift of faith he gave her. Later in the Preface, we’ll pray to him, “Indeed or your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended.” We give him thanks for the confident hope we have that Aunt Elaine’s life has not ended, but changed, and changed for the better.

In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us, as he told St. Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live and no one who lives and believes in me will never die.” He reveals that the resurrection, that eternal life, is not so much a fact or an event but a relationship. Jesus is the Resurrection. For us to experience the gift of eternal life, we must respond to his offer of loving friendship. He promises — and whose words could ever be more guaranteed? — that whoever lives and believes in him, even if he dies, will live. And we give thanks that Aunt Elaine took these words seriously. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead on the fourth day to show that he had power over life and death. But what he has planned for us is so much greater than what he did for Lazarus. He resuscitated Lazarus from the tomb, but Lazarus would have to die again. But the resurrection and life Jesus was describing to Martha was something much greater that resuscitation to continued mortal existence. It would be a resurrection to a life that would never end. Jesus, however, doesn’t want this truth to remain a theoretical possibility and mere hope. He wants us to seize it. That’s why at the end of this passage, he asks Martha directly, “Do you believe this?” Similarly, Jesus asked that question to Aunt Elaine and asks it to each of us. “Do you believe this?” Martha’s response is instructive for all of us. She had never seen someone experience this risen life — after all, this was before Jesus’ resurrection — but nevertheless she expressed the grounds for faith. “Yes, Lord,” she replied. “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” She expressed her faith in Jesus, and because of her faith in him, because of her relationship with him, she expressed her faith in what he was saying. Today we all have the opportunity to reaffirm that faith in Jesus and — on the basis of it — his words calling us to believe and live in him so that we may experience eternal happiness, resurrection and life with him.

Aunt Elaine’s relationship with Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, was also pointed to in our response to God’s word in the Psalm, which is a proclamation of the Christian faith and a manifesto of Aunt Elaine’s life. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want,” we prayed, words thtat, “I shall not go without. I shall not lack.” With the Lord as our shepherd, we have it all! This was a faith that never wavered for Aunt Elaine. Later in that Psalm, we prayed, “Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil, for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” Aunt Elaine had to walk through several dark valleys in life, but she knew she never walked alone. She knew the Lord was with her. Especially in the difficulties of the last couple of years due to the ravages of diabetes, she was never lost, she never let the darkness overcome her. She moved on with the hope that comes from faith, from the determination she received in a relationship with One who triumphed even over crucifixion. She believed in the One whom she knew had led her at 15 days old to the restful waters of baptism, who had guided her in right moral paths for the sake of his name, who kept spread a Eucharistic table before her, who was leading her to repose in evergreen pastures, and who was planning to fulfill her hope to dwell in the house of the Lord forevermore. Today in the midst of our mourning, we remember that the Lord is our Shepherd, too, and even if we’re stumbling in the dark valley, he is with us to guide us just as he guided her.

We ought to ask, however, a very important and difficult question. If the Lord really loves us, why does he permit us to walk in a dark valley at all? Why does he permit someone he loves so much to suffer as Aunt Elaine suffered physically at the end of her life? It’s a question that we should never duck in faith, because the answer is so essential. We know that God never intended us to suffer in the beginning, that suffering — as well as the death to which it leads — was a consequence of original sin. But God didn’t leave suffering there. He came to redeem it, to draw moral good from the (ontological) evil of suffering. That’s what he did by his own passion, death and resurrection, drawing the greatest good ever from the worst evil, and in that way, he transformed suffering so that it would be part of our redemption and the redemption of the world. When Aunt Elaine came to Rome with me in 1998, we were able to attend an audience with now Saint John Paul II. Thirty years ago, St. John Paul wrote an incredible exhortation on the Christian meaning of suffering and in it he said that the ultimate meaning of suffering now in the plan of redemption is to “unleash love in the human person.” When we see someone suffering, especially a loved one suffering, it forces us out of any selfishness to which we’ve succumbed and forges us into Good Samaritans, crossing the road of indifference to help those in need. That’s the first way suffering unleashes love. We saw that love unleashed in the solicitude of so many of her dear friends and kind caregivers here in Michigan, in Missouri and in Florida. But we saw it in a most unforgettable way in you, Uncle Duane, who virtually went without sleep for the last five months of her life, virtually never leaving her side in the hospital and hospice, and keeping her literally in your arms each night at home. St. Paul called all husbands to love their wives just as Jesus loved the Church, and we know that Jesus loved us with the greatest love of all, laying down his life for us. You loved Aunt Elaine like that, laying down your life, your time, your body, your blood, your sweat, everything you had out of love for your bride. We noticed. She noticed. And God noticed. As much as all of us always knew that you loved her, her illness unleashed even greater love in you, an example that none of us will ever be able to forget and all of us hope to emulate.

But there’s a second way, Saint John Paul taught us, that suffering unleashes love in a human person. It’s in the sufferer. Suffering humbles a person to receive the love of others. Often we can resist others doing us favors. We want to be independent, to be in charge, to take care of ourselves. There’s virtue in a lot of this, but sometimes this independence can make us resist the loving sacrifices of others. We say “Thanks for the offer, but I can take care of myself.” Suffering makes us realize how much we need others and makes us grateful even for the smallest gestures of love. Aunt Elaine was a very strong woman, who was out on her own at 18. She was the daughter of a Golden Gloves champion and every bit as interiorly formidable. She never lost that strength during her illness, always getting up off the canvas with hope and persisting to the end. But at the same time, she became ever more grateful for all the little things done for her by others that so often so many of us take for granted. All of these prepared her ever more for the greatest love of all, when Jesus, the Good Samaritan, would cross the road from heaven to take her to the eternal inn. Suffering can either make us bitter or better depending upon the degree to which we unite our suffering to the Lord. As difficult as it was for all of us to see Aunt Elaine suffer, we can say now that suffering made her better, made her character stronger as her body got weaker, made her beautiful traits — her honesty, her sense of humor, her intelligence, her resolve — shine ever more. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “None of us lives for himself, none of us dies for himself. If we live, we live for the Lord. If we die, we die for the Lord. So that whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.” Aunt Elaine was always a person who lived for others, sacrificing her own happiness for so many years to provide for her beloved children, Frank, Joe and Paulette. Even in her last illness, she didn’t think about herself, but was constantly thinking of everyone else. Her suffering brought this self-giving for God and for others to its zenith. And more than anything else, it strengthened her faith in Jesus her Lord and Good Shepherd, her Resurrection and Life, increasing her thirst for the gift of the spring of life-giving water that Jesus thirsted even more to share with her.

Today we have come to this Church of St. Denis to pray for her to God and to entrust her to his merciful love. St. Denis was the third-century founding bishop of Paris who was martyred for the faith. Four centuries later another saintly priest became Archbishop of Paris. His name was Saint Landry, Aunt Elaine’s maiden name. St. Landry built next to the primitive Church of Notre Dame a hospice there called Hotel Dieu, “God’s hotel,” to care for sick pilgrims with the love of Christ. We pray that St. Denis and St. Landry both will assist us by their prayers so that Aunt Elaine will be welcomed into true Hotel Dieu not made by human hands, but made by God, eternal for us in heaven.

And we, as Christians, say goodbye in a very special way. When Aunt Elaine was at St. Jeanne D’Arc School acing all her courses such that she received two double-promotions in grammar school, most of her classes in French. There she learned that the French word for goodbye was “Adieu,” a word that symbolizes the way Christians have always faithfully said their farewells. Like the Spanish “Adiòs,” the Portuguese “Adeus,” and the Italian “Addio,” Adieu means that we entrust literally “to-God,” “A-Dieu” the one to whom we’re saying goodbye. As we here at this funeral Mass say Adieu to Aunt Elaine, entrusting her soul to the same Father to whom from the Cross Jesus commended his own, we thank God for her life and thank her for her love as we express our hope that we will see her again in that new heaven and new earth in which she together with the whole Church placed her faith. And as we enter into the greatest prayer ever made, Jesus’ own from the Last Supper and the Cross as he gave his Body and Blood so that Aunt Elaine and each of us might not perish but have eternal life, we ask the Lord to bless us with the faith of St. Martha, of St. Denis, of St. Landry and of Elaine Landry Bruckerhoff so that we might say to Jesus whom we are about to behold under the appearances of bread and wine, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Today he asks us, “Do you believe this?” Aunt Elaine did believe it. And we ask that God might grant us in life the grace to echo that holy response of faith.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

A Reading from the Second Book of Maccabees (2 Macc 12:38-46)
Judas rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the week was ending, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there. On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his men went to gather up the bodies of the slain and bury them with their kinsmen in their ancestral tombs. But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 23)

R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.

R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.

R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

R. Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 4:13-18)
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.

Alleluia Verse and Verse Before the Gospel
“I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Whoever believes in me will never die.”

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John (Jn 11: 17-27)
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”