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Homily from Suzanne Fogarty's Funeral Mass
Many of you have requested a copy of my homily from Suzanne Fogarty's funeral. I am happy to provide it for you.
Dear friends, We are united with you today in sorrow at the death of Suzanne.
I know that the reality of death with all it's pain and sense of loss confronts you at this moment. On behalf of Father Mariusz, Fr. McCarthy, Fr. Ronald and Fr. John and the people of St. Peter's, I extend to you, John, your two daughters, Maggie and Ashlyn, and son Thomas, to Suzanne's mother Annette, father James, her sister Amy, her niece Lily, and nephew Eric, may I extend our deepest sympathy and assurance of our prayers.
But as I stand here before you this morning, I know that we are also united with you in another way, namely, faith. And indeed, if it were not for that faith, I would have very little to say to you that would be of any consolation or meaning.
We have questions of course. For some, Suzanne's death will be a means of leading them to count their blessings while for others, it may cause them to wonder and even doubt why a loving God would allow such a tragedy to happen.
God doesn't take life, rather He gives us life. We are but mortals and the sadness of an untimely death is incomprehensible. But by our faith we know that God receives the soul and ends the suffering. Suzanne's death is not God's fault, God is not to blame for it. God didn't cause the cancer. He is probably angered too with the world - it's imperfection. Yes, man has done much to improve the world - but we have also done things that have disturbed the delicate balance of nature. It is understandable that at a time like this we may feel somewhat let down - abandoned by our God - have doubt about His goodness or care, about those He loves and that love Him.
I don't pretend for a moment to stand here and tell you I have all the answers as to the why's and wherefore's of what in our judgment is an untimely death. A good priest and friend would say, now that's God's business - stay out of the garden, making reference to the Garden of Eden. That's where two people got into trouble, for thinking that they knew more than God himself.
I tell you what you can do, and that is - take these feelings, your sorrow and disappointment with the Lord and talk to Him about them. Did Mary the mother of Jesus, John the great apostle, Peter the rock, and all the others understand Jesus' death? Apparently they had their questions and doubts as to God's ways at times. Remember Jesus' death was also untimely - he was only 33.
We struggle with death especially when it's out of the order of life. It tests our faith - it did for the apostles.
Martha and Mary felt abandoned too when Jesus didn't come to their house for 4 days after Lazarus' death. No wonder Martha and Mary were cross, "ticked off" with Jesus. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Those words spoke volumes. Some of the onlookers remarked, "Hey, now he opened the eyes of the blind man. Don't you think he could have saved Lazarus?"
Then, the great teaching moment, "Your brother will rise again", Jesus told them.
"I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Then one of the greatest moments of revelation of who Jesus was - "I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live even if he dies. Do you believe this?"
And then their response, "Yes, Lord."
Remember Maggie, Ashlyn and Thomas, we were talking about this yesterday. We were talking about this big candle and what it meant. How God loves us and to prove it He sent His Son, Jesus, down to earth and God asked His Son to die for us and for our sins so that when we die, we won't go to Hell, but we will go to Heaven. Then you told me He rose from the dead, right?
The tall, white candle, the Paschal Candle, stands beside the coffin at every Mass. We call it the Paschal Candle because we light if firstly at Easter. And there are five grains of incense inserted in it symbolizing the five wounds of Jesus - the two wounds in His hands, the two in His legs, and the wound in His side. It is very symbolic that this candle stands beside the coffin during every funeral Mass. It is almost as if Jesus is standing beside the coffin looking up at His Father and pleading on behalf of your mother, saying, "Look, I bore these wounds in my body for the salvation of mother, I suffered, I died, I rose again for her. Forgive her Father and take her to Paradise." St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory, where o death is your sting?"
Also in the Paschal Candle above the five grains of incense, there is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, Alpha, and below the five grains of incense there is the last letter, Omega. In other words, Jesus is the beginning and end of all that we do and say.
If it were not for Jesus' suffering, those five wounds, dying and rising, life would not have meaning.
But Jesus was the beginning and end of mother's life and is the beginning and end of all our lives. It is He who gives meaning to our lives, especially in times of suffering. Suzanne gave great witness to suffering during her illness.
This candle is placed here to remind us of that. You told me that your mother has gone to heaven, right? That is where all good people go. And your mother was a very good, faith-filled person.
So your were telling me the same thing Martha and her sister, Mary told Jesus. Yes, you believe.
But we know this simple child faith is an extension of Suzanne's and yours, John.
God didn't cure Suzanne's cancer and that is God's business, but He sure gave you the strength of faith you need to carry the cross of her sickness and death. What an example of faith, love for Suzanne you are. Sometimes we priests think we are going to minister to someone and we find instead they minister to us. That is you, John Fogarty. What an inspiration you are to me and to all of your family and friends. The love, commitment, care, attention, walking with Suzanne through every step of her journey in sickness over the last 3 years. Words are hard to describe, unbelievable. May God Bless you.
Maggie, Ashlyn, Thomas - you will miss your mother, her bike riding, her decorating, her neatness, and order about the house, love of Christmas music, "I Love Lucy" and "The Golden Girls".
But these are memories you won't ever forget.
Remember that "life has changed, not ended" for mother. She is still with you and always will. You can talk to her as you always did and she will be listening.
To her parents, Annette and James, it is out of the order of life for parents to bury their child. Know that in Mary the Mother of God, you have a special refuge. She too buried her child.
To Amy and all the family and friends, what an example of love and support you have been and I'm sure will continue to be to John and the children. They will need you now, if not more than ever.
The ceremony today contains many reminders:
Sprinkling with water=baptism; white pall=new life; the candle=resurrection.
In the midst of all this - should we grieve?
Yes, it is OK to grieve. Jesus did. It is natural. You loved this wonderful lady, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, but we who believe, have faith, so we grieve with HOPE. It is OK to be sad, distressed sure, but in our faith we are sure we will see our dear one again.
We pray for Suzanne today that she will complete her journey to heaven - children, pray for mother and to her every day. She will be listening.
So then, as we go lay her ashes to rest remembering that while we bury them, we bury body parts. We bury them, but not her soul, we bury her hands, but not her good deeds, bury her heart, but not her love, we bury her head, but not her memory. Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.