32ND SUNDAY HOMILY – IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR I
THEME: HOMILY FOR MY FUNERAL
By: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong
1. Funeral. Less than 1 mile from this pulpit, at St John’s Church, I concelebrated the Funeral Mass for the former President of Creighton University, late Fr John P. Schlegel, SJ, on November 20th, 2015. We were all enchanted, when Fr Joseph Brown, SJ, the homilist, who was Fr Schlegel’s best friend, brought out a sheet of paper from his pocket, and showed everyone saying, “this is ‘Homily for My Funeral’, by Fr John Schlegel.” It was the homily that Fr Schlegel had prepared for his own funeral. Fr Brown, added to the drama by refusing to read the homily. Putting it back into his pocket and turning to the casket, he remarked smiling: “thank you buddy for preparing so well but we’ll talk about this when I join you there”. We were all consoled and even laughing during the funeral largely because 9 months before his death, Fr Schlegel wrote a farewell letter to us, to everyone who knew him. Here are a few lines: “The word I share with you now will come as a surprise to you, or even a shock, as it did to me. The diagnosis is that I have pancreatic cancer. At this time, it is inoperable because of the size of the tumor and its proximity to a major artery…. So, this is, perhaps, a farewell letter. …I believe suffering is at the heart of the Christian story. But I also agree with Teresa of Avila in noting that “pain is never permanent.” God has been so very good to me. I have had a very rich and productive life. … God is indeed a gracious and generous God. Because of you I do not fear death…. I rely on your prayers that my life, my ending, may praise and glorify God…. Thank you for your friendship across the years. Please forgive any offenses. Continue to build God’s kingdom. When you pray for me, please use the prayer for Fr. Arrupe’s canonization. Who knows, I may be the miracle he needs to become a saint! …Regardless, we keep in mind the hopeful words of St. Paul ‘if we have died with Christ, we shall also live with him.’ PEACE TO ALL…. until we meet again!” Dear sisters and brothers, that letter is one concrete application of all the Scripture readings today. There are many tips for the remainder of our own journey in today’s Scripture readings, hinged on wisdom in particular and virtue in general.
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2. Preparation. Fr Schlegel definitely did some remarkable preparation for his passing away after his diagnosis. The parable of the ten virgins or ten bridesmaids in today’s Gospel (Mt 25:1-13) is about preparation and the fact that some things are not transferable or cannot be borrowed at the last minute. We can all borrow money or material property. But we cannot borrow virtue or character. The first reading (Wis 6:12-16) introduces wisdom, the virtue that enables us to give appropriate value to things. The reading presents the good news that wisdom “can be found by those who seek her.” Yes, wisdom can be learned, can be taught, or acquired. I remember a verse of the Bible which my late Dad taught me: Proverbs 6:6. It says: “Go to the ants, you sluggard, consider its ways and be wise”. So, we can acquire wisdom even from observing creatures and creation. Further verses add: “It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest”. In other words, ants are prepared. Being prepared is a mark of wisdom. The 2nd reading (1 Thess 4:13-18) indirectly answers the question: what should we be most prepared for? Of course, our transition from this mortal life to eternal life in Heaven. In the Gospel reading (Mt 25:1-13), our Lord illustrates steps to be taken by the wise in preparation for the kingdom of Heaven. The five wise bridesmaids were prepared for a long haul. Dear sisters and brothers, the focus of my meditation on this parable has been whether the five wise bridesmaids were lacking in charity when they refused to share their oil with the other five.
3. Virtue is personal. From this parable, I am warned that there are certain things which can hardly be acquired at the last minute, namely: (1) a good relationship with God and neighbor, (2) good character, and (3) humble service done to others. The parable also warns me that these same qualities which can hardly be obtained at the last minute, unfortunately, cannot be borrowed. The oil that could not be shared or transferred signifies good character or virtue. You will not be able to lend me your virtue. This is my opportunity to emulate or copy your good qualities, those of our Lord and of the Saints. You may support me now by your prayers and good example but ultimately, I have to get my virtue. And my virtues will be the real homily for my funeral and beyond. My virtues will console and comfort those I leave behind. May this Holy Mass be another outpouring of God’s grace to each of us to grow in personal virtue and holiness. Amen.
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