When A Great Tree Falls

Maya Angelou’s beautiful poem, When Great Trees Fall, historic Oakwood Cemetery in Troy New York, and the setting of the Gardener Earl Memorial Chapel, inspired this homily delivered at a memorial service for a woman, Patricia Louise D., who died after a long battle with breast cancer, and who was revered as a simple, humble, generous, and kind person by all who knew her. The message is simply that of simplicity and how simplicity and humility are the hallmarks of true greatness.

It seems that when we let go and allow things to move on their own energy and power, they happen naturally and appropriately, whether it’s dying or writing a homily for a beloved woman. As it turned out, PattiLou loved nature and trees, one of her favorite pastimes was leaf peeping in Vermont. She loved all of nature, animals and, while she was an accomplished cook, she loved the simplicity of peanut butter sandwiches on buttered white bread. She enjoyed the rain. We had all of these today. But I didn’t know that when I wrote the homily earlier this week. Just letting the juices flow turned out a lesson that was received with great joy and gratitude.

I hope you feel the same when you read this one.

In the very beginning of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic sacred texts, the First Testament, in Genesis 2:9, we read: “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”How much greater can anything be than to be created in the image of the Divine. How much greater can anything be than to share the divine attribute of simplicity? How much greater can anything be than to be able to share simple love, the greatest gift of the Divine.

With that as a starting point, we can tell the story of the Gospel as a story of four trees. In the Garden of Eden, God gave special attention to two trees, trees one and two, which were associated with the destiny of humankind, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The third tree of our tradition is the cross— the tree of Calvary on which the Incarnate Word was offered as he fulfilled the promise of the Prophets. At end of this present age we come full circle back to Eden and again have the fourth tree, the Tree of Life, which now, as before, represents the promise of communion with God. It is that fourth tree’s fruit that will bring healing to us all, true healing, salvation, no more tears, no more suffering.

In Mark 8:24 we are told that the blind man “looked up and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around;” human beings are very like trees, and when his sight was restored, he could see things clearly. That “cure” is a symbolic statement of “new life”, of new “insight.” We are like trees until we attain new life, are reborn, are blessed with new insight.

Martin Luther wrote: “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” Not to upstage Martin Luther, God also writes the Gospel in us.

The word tree is a creative and manifesting symbol in the sacred texts of many faith traditions, and often refers to taking or producing fruit s. Fruit is a very symbolic way to describe the end product or passing forward of nourishment, knowledge, and seeds to carry on the next generation.

Take, for example, the symbol of the tree in Luke’s Gospels. Luke’s references to trees, specifically fig trees, are neither meaningless add-ins nor provided for mere local color. They are thematically significant and important to his theological and ethical message. Luke’s use of figs and fig trees is significant to us today. Luke 6:43–45 records Jesus’ teaching on trees and fruit: “for they do not gather figs from thorn bushes.” The point is that “a bad tree does not produce good fruit,” or, to put it more positively, “the good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good fruit.” The “good fruit” signifies the good spiritual fruit that we expect to come from a good tree.

The parable in Luke 13:6-9 has a farmer planting a fig tree, coming to pick figs, and finding none. Once again the tree symbolizes spiritual fruitfulness, corning as it does in the context of a call to change of heart (13: 1-5).

Finally, Luke 21 :29-31 records the saying, “Behold the fig tree and all the trees, whenever they are already putting forth leaves, you see for yourselves and know that summer is near.” Fig leaves symbolize the signs that “your salvation is drawing near” (21 :28). In each of these examples, Luke’s use of fruit and trees is highly and specifically symbolic of fruitfulness, precisely in the context of how we live our lives.

So, when poet laureate Maya Angelou penned that great work of lyric poetry, When Great Trees Fall, she made every tree, big or small, even the smallest sapling great in its simply being.

Trees figure importantly in Celtic, Shamanic, Hassidic, Buddhist and so many other faith and belief traditions it’s no wonder at all that the image of the tree should become the focus of today’s homily, especially in this incredibly beautiful Gardener Earl chapel set amidst myriad species of noble trees in this historic and peaceful place, Oakwood, with its many great trees. Even the name Oakwood calls forth a whole forest of great trees. What an appropriate metaphor for our gathering here, today, to remember a great tree that has fallen.

How do we in fact measure greatness? By how much money we make? By how many wars we start? By how many people we cause to suffer? Or do we measure greatness by the enduring human meaning we leave in the hearts of others? Do we measure greatness by the courage to be yourself, by having inner strength, by having the greatness simply to be, by being to be kind, and by being kind to become great?

Does a tree have to be great to be beautiful, to silently enhance a landscape, to charm us with the music of its leaves in the wind, and the songs of delight sung by birds in its sheltering branches? No. All the tree has to do is remember to be a tree, that for which it was created, and nothing more. The tree can be beautifully great by simply being itself. We can follow Patti’s example, and do the same.

Much of the Gospels speaks of and reminds us that simple kindness and compassion is great kindness and compassion. “What you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:31-46) Simple kindness to the “least of these” becomes kindness to the greatest!

Patricia was fond of people like that and she had the greatness not only to talk about it, if she ever did, but to put her love, compassion and action where her mouth was. She did this in her early years when caring for her brothers Paul and Greg. And we have only to recall her love for her sister, Sheri. It doesn’t surprise me that Patricia admired Mother Theresa, greatness in a very simple package. It doesn’t surprise me either that Patricia was greatly spiritual and very spiritually sensitive; that may be one reason she worshipped in the cathedral of her heart rather than a hospital for sick souls. Patricia knew where to seek and to find her God; she looked within herself and found the light in the silent darkness that is the divine.

Patricia knew suffering both spiritual and physical, maybe more than most of us can ever hope for. That may sound a bit strange, “suffering…maybe more than most of us can ever hope for.” You might ask whether our very nature is to avoid suffering. Maybe it is. But we human beings tend to avoid a lot of things that are good for us. Every great person you will ever experience suffered greatly but rather than be crushed by that suffering, the great person grows with that suffering and gives it meaning. Imagine if there were no suffering and every day was just blandly blissful, you’d might as well be a stone, you’d have nothing to drive you. Oddly, suffering does just that: It reminds you that you feel, it reminds you to feel, it reminds you to be grateful. Suffering reminds you that you are resilient; it reminds you that you have a choice, it reminds us what is really important and valued. If you accept suffering and learn what it means to you as a person in process, you will view suffering in an entirely new light: it will become rich soil for growth.

Patricia suffered greatly also in a physical sense; those of you who companioned her through her suffering and to her death suffered spiritually. But I would ask you, what did Patricia’s physical suffering teach you, what did it mean to you? What did Patricia’s strength teach you? Those of you who experienced Patricia’s dying and death, what did that teach you? How did it change you? Who were you before her death, and who are you now?

I know that Nicholas has changed enormously in this experience; even in planning this event Nicholas has changed. What about the other participants here, Paul, Greg, Debbie. What about Mary, Judy? You all had different relationships with Patricia, you all experienced her death differently, you will all grief her loss differently. You will each find different meaning in the gifts she shared with you in living and in dying. Her suffering became your suffering, her meaning is now your meaning, her greatness has become your greatness. Maybe simple greatness but that’s what makes it true greatness.

A great and beautiful tree has fallen in our lives and, as Angelou poetically describes the emotions of the grief that each one of us is experiencing at the loss of that tree, each of us in our own unique and personal way, “the rocks on distant hills shudder,” “small things recoil in silence,” the air around us changes, we briefly see mystery with clarity, our memories become sharpened, reality seems suspended, our so secure minds are reduced to “unutterable ignorance”, we are blocked by a cloud of unknowing. But after a time, Angelou, assures us “peace blooms, slowly, irregularly.” The empty space fills within us but we are forever changed. The whisper echoes in the heart, “They existed” And we can be. Be and be better. Because they existed. There’s something deeply Gospel in those words.

Today’s Gospel reading came from Luke (18:15-17), painlessly short, just three verses, is full of meaning for us today. The passage follows directly on the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, which ends with the words, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” That certainly needs no interpretation. Our reading today isn’t one of the readings we usually do for a funeral or a memorial, but we have referred to Luke and trees several times today, and the passage I chose occurs in all three of what we call the Synoptic Gospels, Luke, Mark and Matthew, and speaks to us about the simplicity and humility of children, and how, in order to enter the Kingdom of God, we must be like children, simple and humble. Having said that,

Today’s Gospel reading came from Luke. The passage follows directly on the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, which ends with the words, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” That certainly needs no interpretation. Our reading today isn’t one of the readings we usually do for a funeral or a memorial, but we have referred to Luke and trees several times today, and the passage I chose occurs in all three of what we call the Synoptic Gospels, Luke, Mark and Matthew, and speaks to us about the simplicity and humility of children, and how, in order to enter the Kingdom of God, we must be like children, simple and humble. Having said that, I’d like to close by reading a section of a childrens’ book on death, Gentle Willow[1]. So suspend being grown-ups for a few minutes and be like little children again.

Every day little tree looked across the pond and rustled her leaves to sing songs to Gentle Willow. And every day Amanda visited and told her stories. One day while Amanda was visiting, Gentle Willow began to cry. “I’m afraid to change,” she said. “I want to stay the way I am. I want to stay a tree.

Not knowing how to help her friend, Amanda sat quietly. She just listened and stayed close while Gentle Willow wept.

Then Amanda remembered about songs and stories…and love. And as she was trying to think of a good story, one of the big yellow butterflies fluttered by. Amanda smiled and snuggled closer to Gentle Willow. She began her story…

“Once a long time ago, when Yellow Butterfly was little, she was something called a caterpillar.

She was fuzzy and long and crawled on the ground over rocks and flowers.”

After a while, Yellow Butterfly felt something inside her changing. But she did not know what the change would be. She grew tired and needed to rest. That is how she came to you, Gentle Willow. She needed a branch to rest upon.”

Yellow Butterfly began to spin a warm blanket around herself.

Inside of the blanket it was very dark. Butterfly felt her whole fuzzy caterpillar self changing shape.

After what seemed a very long time, she felt ready to come out of the blanket. Se did not want to be in that darkness anymore.”

“And there she was. Not crawling on the ground anymore, not a fuzzy caterpillar anymore. Instead, she had silky yellow wings. Her whole form had changed. And as she flew, she found all the other butterflies like herself.”

When Amanda finished her story, she noticed that Gentle Willow had stopped crying. She seemed to be smiling a quiet understanding.

It was the time of Spring once again, when all the flowers bloomed their brightest colors. Little Tree and Amanda looked across the pond to the place where Gentle Willow once stood. “Look,” said Little Tree.

“The big yellow Butterflies have come back to dance.”

“Yes,” said Amanda.

“Perhaps,” in a different way they still hear the crystal songs of our friend Gentle Willow.”

You don’t have to be an expert in quantum mechanics to know that when a butterfly flaps its wings, the effect is felt in the whole universe; imagine what happens when a great tree falls.

[1] Mills, Joyce C, and Cary Pillo. Gentle Willow: A Story for Children About Dying. , 2004. Print.

You can download the full text of the homily here: Homily_A Great tree has Fallen_PLD_publish.

Posted in Homiletics | 1 Comment

Conversion 101 – A Reflection

On reflection, one of our most distinctive traits as human beings, although created in likeness of the Creator God, is our freedom to choose to approximate the Divine or to take an alternate route, distancing ourselves from a forgiving God, a detour we call sin. The Greek is for missing our waypoints is hamartia (αμαρτία, from αμαρτάνειν hamartánein), which in the classical language, means to “miss the mark.”

Conversion 101 – A Reflection

Metánoia should be at the heart of our teaching, our liturgical preaching, and our liturgical leadership. We as teachers and preachers must recognize that our homiletic practice is central to our liturgical practice and hence central to our pastoral practice. The liturgy, if it has the message of metanoia at its core, can be  a source of great healing and inspiration. The liturgy is faith in action, and worship is a liturgical culture; we are liturgical creatures. We must appreciate the gift of liturgy and spiritual guidance. I speak from experience: Those of us practicing vocations of compassion often come away from encounters with the faithful-in-crisis, whether spiritual or existential, with a deep sadness, a sadness that has its roots in a realization that our faithful have acquired and live with an image of the Christian life and the Christian God that are distorted. One of those distortions is that God is punishing one because of one’s past, present, even future sins. This is not the message of the Gospels.

In a recent reflection posted for the Companions of New Skete, we read the word repentance, a word that has plagued theologizing linguists for centuries because it is an extraordinary mistranslation, a linguistic glitch that distorts the intended meaning of the Greek word metánoia – and conflates it with the Greek word metámelomai (see Mark 1 vs. Matt 27:3, sources which employ the words metanoeo/metánoia or metamélomai (μεταμέλομαι)) that occurs in the Second Testament (and in the LXX), which renders the Hebrew word “nacham” (change of mind, finding comfort). That word metánoia (μετάνοια, change in mind, conversion) continues as evidence of the extraordinary insult in translating dating back to the Latin Fathers’ translation of metánoia, rendering it poenatentia, and thus associating it with penance and punishment, and which reflects the later Medieval Scholastics’ teaching of a God, who is vindictive and vengeance seeking, angered by our choice to sin, and the teaching that for our sinfulness God demands propitiation, payment to avoid Divine wrath. The sinner must purge themselves of their guilt engendering guilt and condemnation. That teaching reached its pinnacle of silliness with the teaching of “tollhouses”, stages of purification through which the soul must pass to attain salvation.  This is a notion of a distorted God and flies in the face of the teaching of a forgiving and merciful God, and our freedom to change.

Metánoia is not the only casualty of the Latin translators, we can also note the confusion of messiah and savior in the translations from the Hebrew; that confusion continues to this day and continues to mislead the ignorant faithful and far too many of the clergy. No less a figure than Tertullian took offence to the translation of metánoia with poenitentiam, arguing that metánoia is not a confession of sins but a change of heart. (Having made that statement, I do not argue that the “change of heart” does not result from reflection of one’s past behavior or regret for having sinned. St Augustine himself is clearly a witness to that.)

The word repentance, which has persisted in myriad translations and in pastoral and theological usage, does not convey the very important and authentic meaning of metánoia: a change of heart.

In the ordo salutis, at one pole of which we have the steps leading to healing and return to the source and final end in the Western Catholic (faith, contrition, regeneration, penance (epitimion, pokúta; following confession), sanctification, purgation, theosis) or in the Eastern Catholic (Orthodox) (catharsis, theoria, theosis by way of virtuous life, prayer, and participation in the Mysteries), or in the Reformed tradition, election/predestination. Repentance, at least in the Western tradition, has to do more with penance, less with metánoia.

This is metánoia, not repentance. The Great Error of teaching is based on erroneous translation!

So, what is my point, you may ask by this time? I find myself reflecting on the Orthodox tradition, in which sin is conceived of as a disorder, an illness, and confession as a ‘medicine’, with metánoia being the healing therapy, leading to – another insult to conscientious linguistics and competent translation — “salvation”, where salvation may be in its broadest connotation a sort of being saved or deliverance, in truth is not being saved but being “healed” (it derives from the Latin salvus, and like the English word “salve,” is healing).

There are a number of reasons for these confusions but whatever the reasons, we have to deal with them now, in our lives, in our teaching.

No matter what the reasons for the misuse of the term repentance or why it has persisted, the fact remains that our healing, our salvation if you prefer, depends not on revisiting old sin, or on guilt, or on propitiation (save for the salubrious effects of epitímion, if employed by the priest) but on metánoia, a change of mind, heart and conduct.

In fact, a more appropriate reading of John the Baptist’s call to “repent” is actually a call to change of heart, a change of mind and conduct, not to revisit past sinfulness. Moreover, the reported teachings of Jesus point also to the notion of change of heart and conduct, less than a recollection of past sinfulness. While I am not purporting that we should not maintain an awareness of our freedom to make wrong choices or that we should not examine ourselves regularly, nor that regular confession and consultation with a spiritual guide are nice but not necessary, I do feel that we must look forward, while employing all of the preceding, to changing our way of thinking and behaving. And Yes! this process of metánoia or conversion is a lifetime process, and we would be ill advised not to revisit our hearts and minds and conducts regularly, in order to tweak and fine tune ourselves, ensuring we are on the correct spiritual heading towards the destination, which is God.

Far from the negative connotations and denotations of the term “repentance,” metánoia compels a positive, proactive, life-affirming response to God’s offer of union through His grace.

Reading St John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent“, the saint teaches that “[R]epentence is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is self-condemning reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.” We could easily replace “repentence” with “metánoia” or “change of heart” without substantially distorting the saint’s teaching (assuming the rest of the translation is correct).

Having said all of that, I do not wish to avoid reflecting on the concept of repenting on behalf of others (so important for Greek monastic theology from the 4th century on), at least in nascent form, can be found in the LXX, but that’s another diatribe for another time.

Our reflection was on repentance as compared with metánoia, and our Lenten retreat centers on forgiveness. So what’s the connection I’m trying to make? Well, having reflected on the importance of metánoia, it would seem that claiming a Christian lifestyle would be a mockery if not abject hypocrisy, if we were not to engage metánoia as our radical, i.e., fundamental attitude towards forgiveness. We have the freedom to choose Divine Light or a fragmented, autonomous existence choosing darkness. Self-awareness, authenticity, that is, the admission that we are capable of sinning — sin is not just the province of evil people — our purification and forgiveness comes from getting to the root of the reality of potential and real sinfulness, and this involves metánoia: a change of mind, heart and conduct. Some have referred to this as “soul surgery”, something we can’t do ourselves, but for which we need God’s grace and the wisdom of wise and patient spiritual guidance from another pilgrim capable of nudging us towards opening ourselves to the truth about ourselves, acknowledging that truth, doing something about it, and navigating us towards true forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately healing.

This is a radical revolution, an about face in our attitudes rooted in a change of heart and an orientation to God. If we commit ourselves to metánoia, we approach true self-awareness, a prerequisite for the essential authenticity, and self-control through the action of the Holy Spirit and Divine Grace.

Whoever acts as his own spiritual guide has a fool for a client.

As I reread and reflect on my thoughts, it becomes obvious how frequently I, and you, have been deceived by detouring from the true path to the Divine; in other words, we have frequently been deceived by sin of one sort or another. We all have heard the saying: “Whoever acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client.” This can apply very aptly to our spiritual life as well. As we cannot do our own soul surgery, we cannot act as our own spiritual guide, and we really should have a wise spiritual father or mother who can provide good counsel to us, based on their mature spirituality and their deep listening skills. We are fortunate, as Companions of New Skete, to have a treasure of rich resources at our disposal, and we would be pitiable spiritual sons and daughters if we were not to avail ourselves of these resources.

In conclusion, our focus should be less on repentance as such and more on metánoia. Through a change of heart, a reorientation, a radical transformation of outlook, a change in our view of the world and ourselves, a renewal of how we love, and how we see beauty.  Metánoia should be at the heart of our teaching, our liturgical preaching, and our participation in the liturgy, which is a great source of healing and inspiration. The liturgy is faith in action, and Orthodoxy is a liturgical culture; we are liturgical creatures. We must appreciate the gift of liturgy and spiritual guidance. I speak from experience: Those of us practicing vocations of compassion often come away from encounters with the faithful-in-crisis, whether spiritual or existential, with a deep sadness, a sadness that has its roots in a realization that our faithful have acquired and live with an image of the Christian life and the Christian God that are distorted. One of those distortions is that God is punishing one because of one’s past, present, even future sins. This is not the message of the Gospels. Let us recall the scripturally based prayer of absolution teaching that “God desires not the death of a sinner, but that the sinner turn from his evil ways and live.” That prayer teaches metánoia, not medieval notions of repentance and wrath, guilt and shame. It also teaches forgiveness.

I think, during this liturgical season of reflection, that we should seriously make metánoia and forgiveness our goals as compassionate companions.

Please share your thoughts with me about my thoughts.

Posted in Conversion, Homiletics, Liturgical preaching, Metanoia, Newcomer Funeral Services Group, Repentance, Smalbany | Leave a comment

Careful Simplicity: A Legacy of Compassionate Love

The Simplicity of Indra’s Web

Morning Dewdrops on a Spider’s Web


I was out of town, on the last day of a week-long conference, continuing professional education conference in thanatology, when I received a telephone call from a funeral director with whom I frequently work. Would I be back to do a memorial service for a young man who died suddenly, unexpectedly. The FD would not have more details until Saturday. The memorial in the presence of the cremated remains would be on Monday afternoon. It was very tight but I would do it.

On my return on Saturday, I immediately called the FD to get some information and then called the family to arrange for a time for a family conference, when we would discuss the deceased, his life, and the family itself. What I learned in the course of that family conference was not only helpful but daunting. The deceased lived in Turkey, taught English there, had a young wife and a four-year old son. He had come back to the United States to meet with friends from around the world, from Turkey and even China, to a sort of extended family reunion a reunion of international brothers and sisters, a truly joyful occasion. S. went to sleep and never woke up.

The planned joyful reunion had taken a tragic turn at a number of levels, and now we had to memorialize his life and legacy.

S.’s life, his family system, his travels, his ability to love and be compassionate, his young family created an Indra’s web of interconnections and relationships: each one reflecting the other infinitely and, like a spider’s web adorned with morning dew, touch one and the entire web vibrates.

The sharing was daunting and lively. Father, aunts, uncle, wife, 4-year old son all sharing impressions, joy touched by grief.

I was working under extraordinary time constraints and the material was overwhelming. The family, furthermore, noted that they wanted something spiritual but they did not practice any organized [viz. institutionalized] religion. Their faith tradition was Christian, Methodist, Catholic, and Muslim. The mourners were international and even more diverse in their belief traditions, one of the deceased’s closest friends was an Orthodox Jew. The complexity of the situation required careful simplicity.

This homily, I hope, reflects the attempt to engage that careful simplicity to capture S.’s legacy: Compassionate Love.

Bismi Allahi arrahmani arraheem_greenBismi Allahi arrahmani arraheem
In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.

Ecclesiastes 7:1–14; Psalm 42; 1 Corinthians 13:1–8, 11–13; Matthew 25:31-46

Green is the color of truth, of hope. If Sean taught us anything it was the truth of our freedom to love. We lose track of that natural state of humanity, the inborn freedom to love, to hope in divine promise; living in hope is to be kind, compassionate, joyful, cheerful, uninhibited to care and to love. That’s the freedom to love with purity of heart; to give the unconditional love we experience in children and in animals. In those innocent creatures, the evil ego hasn’t yet corrupted the spirit and they are free to love —unconditionally. That’s the love that Sean shared and the love I think he sought to receive from everyone, whom he touched with his grace, his humor, his smile, is gentleness. He not only had the grace to give love unconditionally but the rare grace to receive love unconditionally.

Whereever you look you in this room now you cannot help but experience him. In his father Jerry, his aunt Carol, his uncle Stan, his aunt Barb, but especially in the loves of his life, his soul – friend and wife Muazzez and his heart and soul, his son Ulustan. Close your eyes and think Sean and you will fill with light and love. Sean is a divine gift who was freely given and who freely gave to all without bigotry and judgment. Sean is a gift that continues giving. Sean saw good everywhere, loved everyone; it’s a tough act to follow but we are
Jerry tells the a very funny but illustrative story that goes like this: Jerry was a single parent raising Sean in a little patio home in Phoenix. They were a normal father and son. But something happened that raised Jerry’s curiosity. You see, Jerry kept finding that is toaster was a terrible mess most of the time. And when he came to clean it one day it was just full of gunk and, ya know, pieces of toast. Jerry says to Sean, “Sean, what’s going on here, do you know?” And Sean says, “Dad, you know, that butter is so hard and it tears the bread.” Sean was about 10 years old at the time but that was Sean. The butter was hard and Sean had a solution to it.

Carol shares a story about Sean when he was a little younger than Ulustan. Carol was in medical school and was preparing a report on Piaget and child development. Centering on Ulustan — Carol tells me that Ulustan is the spitting image of Sean at that age — I can more vividly picture the situation. But, anyway, the story goes like this: At about Ulustan’s age children are more linear than volumic, their thinking is still a bit undeveloped. So Carol is in med school and has a project, and Sean is part of it. Carol has a bowl of soda and a tall thin graduated cylinder. Well Carol takes the bowl of soda and pours it into the graduated cylinder and Sean responds, “Wow! Aunt Carol, look at all that soda!” Well, point made. That “Wow! Aunt Carol” stayed with Sean even into his adult life. Sean always had a sense of awe, a sense of childlike wonder. What a gift. If only we could aspire to that gift.

But before this turns into a eulogy rather than a homily, let’s look at what Sean means to us in terms of how we ought to live spiritually and how a good life, the time allotted to us to live here in this world, benefits us and those whom we touch.

The Holy Quran teaches that [Quran 3:145] “No one dies except by God’s leave, at a predetermined time. Whoever seeks the vanities of this world, we give him therefrom, and whoever seeks the rewards of the Hereafter, we bless him therein. We reward those who are appreciative.” No death, therefore is “untimely” or without profound meaning. It’s in the divine plan and we are left to make meaning of the life of the deceased, not to curse the darkness of his loss. Light, not darkness, is Sean’s legacy.

Our readings today may come from Christian Holy Scripture but are echoed and paraphrased throughout the sacred texts of almost every religion in the world: Freedom to Love, Freedom to be Compassionate, Freedom to Be.

Our readings teach of the importance of a good reputation at the time of our death. That’s the legacy we leave behind. Think now of Sean. Funerals remind us that we all must die; think of your legacy. Think now of Sean. How joyful and cheerful are we, how quickly do we anger and hold a grudge. Think now of Sean.

Ecclesiastes teaches us that when times are bad, we should be cheerful, when times are bad, think what it means, find meaning in difficult times. Sean embodied the ethical concept of “Judge to the side of merit.” He never said a negative. He had not one prejudiced bone in his body. Instead of seeing something with anxiety or fear, he saw it as a chance to learn. He sought meaning in the situation. That’s Sean’s legacy.

Our Psalm today speaks of a deer and streams of water. There’s something about Sean that embodies that image of the gentle, beautiful, deer longing for streams of living water. Water is a metaphor of life, of comfort, of purity. As Sean longed for life, gave comfort, and represented a pure spirit, so too the Psalm is so appropriate to today’s situation. Many of you traveled here from Turkey, from China, to celebrate, to be festive, cheerful, to a reunion of friends. Was all that spoiled by what we could see as a tragedy? Perhaps not but only if we seek a much deeper meaning in the events of last week, a meaning that we find in that Psalm,

“When I would cross over to the…house of God, amid loud cries of thanksgiving, with the multitude keeping festival. Why are you downcast, my soul?”

We therefore call today a celebration of life, not a doom and gloom rite filled with dull dirges. Hence the Hawaiian shirts!

Barb read a lovely poem that was requested by Julie Blatz, Sean’s stepsister, The Broken Chain. Read one way it’s a statement of loss; read in the language of Sean, it’s a statement of hope.

“In life we loved you dearly / In death we do the same…For part of us went with you / The day God called you home…And although we cannot see you / You are always at our side.”
While part of us may have gone with Sean, part of Sean remains with us. Now I have to share this beautiful statement with you: Little Ulustan put it quite succinctly: “I don’t have my daddy any more but I have his shirt, and I can smell him. Mommy, we will be without daddy but he will be in our hearts all the time.” That’s the wisdom of a four – year old; that 4 – year old can teach us adults volumes!

Jerry shared with me yesterday that he taught Sean to treat everyone as he would want to be treated. That way of living was well learnt by our Sean and he lived it every day of his life. If we take anything home with us today, let’s take the message of Matthew’s Gospel, a Gospel that describes the ethics of Sean’s life:

“What you did to / for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to / for me.”

As Carol pointed out yesterday, the great mythologist Joseph Campbell put it this way: ”When you reach out to touch another creature, you reach out to touch God.” We, each of us, is a mask of God, and if I understand the meaning of Sean’s life, Sean believed that, too.
But today’s theme is Love and that theme couldn’t be clearer than how St Paul teaches it: If we could speak all languages of humans and angels, without Love we would be nothing. If we could move mountains, without love we would be nothing. We would gain nothing unless we love others because,

Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.
Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered.
It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.
Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil.
Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.
Love never fails!

That’s the lesson Sean Gerald Wakeley lived and the lesson Sean Gerald Wakely leaves with us. The best tribute we can pay to Sean is to aspire to live his legacy of Love.
I’ll end with a nugget of Turkish wisdom shared with me by Muazzez, who tells me that in Turkey it is a tradition to plant a fruit tree in memory of the deceased, and when the tree blossoms and bears fruit, and when we eat that fruit, we remember the deceased and pray that God blesses them. Sean is such a tree and we savored his blossoms when he walked among us, now we savor his fruits that he bore in life and which now provide us with nourishment. And so we pray for God’s blessings and mercy for him.

Peace be to you!
applesClick here to read or download this homily:

Homily_Freedom to Love_Sean Gerald Wakeley.

Posted in Funeralization, Homiletics | Leave a comment

Homecoming: The Guest of Honor

Although, as homilists, we are admonished to make the Pascal mystery the focus of the homily. While that’s a good general hermaneutic for the Sunday homily, bridging the Liturgy of the Word with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, my bereavement ministry is more pastoral, more therapeutic than theologically ecclesial. During the funeral or memorial liturgy —Yes! It’s a liturgy, a work of the people. — we are called, in the midst of grief, despair, confusion, depression, and myriad strong emotions, to find meaning, to inaugurate healing, and to engage transformation. And we do it by participation; the officiant officiates but the assembly participates not only by being passively engaged in the ritual actions and words, but by their personal, active participation.

In the Guest of Honor homily, I was called to honor the memory of the deceased, while acknowledging his somewhat humanly free-spirit character. I am using the words “free spirit” here as perhaps the Greek word for frailty or eccentricity, ἁμαρτάνειν hamartánein, which means to “miss the mark.” That’s something we all manage to do at some point of or throughout our earthly pilgrimage, so it’s no big news that our dead loved one managed to be human at least in that respect but it’s not very wise to dwell on his or her shortcomings at his or her funeral liturgy. Nevertheless, a careful selection of readings will help to drive the point home, even if it has to be done subliminally, by presenting a familiar story with a different twist.

The theological concept of conversion or metanoia (μετάνοια, a change of mind) is important as the resolution of the paradoxes of the life lived; in this instance, metanoia is more of a spiritual transformation or a conversion, both of the deceased and of the survivors.

It’s refreshing to reframe the bereavement situation as one of initially missing the mark, but then a metanoia, renewal, newness, the quenching of a protracted thirst, a homecoming, a nonjudgmental embrace. Reinterpreting the Lucan parable of the Prodigal Son and revisiting the familiar parable as the Homecoming Parable, I attempted to frame the deceased’s life and death in a positive light, and not necessarily in the usual cookie-cutter dirge of platonisms,  incomprehensible palaver or theological meanderings.

I hope you find the result persuasive. I welcome your comments and critiques.

The Guest of Honor

Isaiah 25:6a, 7 – 9; Psalm 42; Revelation 21:1 – 8; Luke 15:11 – 32

Some time ago, while on retreat, I was discussing death and dying with a brother monk and what it means to someone who has devoted his life to work and prayer. He explained it like this: “Say you have a beloved friend with whom you have lost contact over the years but you think about him often, with love and nostalgia. Then, one day, quite unexpectedly, you receive an invitation to a special party in your honor given by that friend, a sort of reunion. How would you feel? Probably elated and so excited you could forget to breath. What joy! And so it’s the day of the reunion and you arrive at the resort, your friend is there—hasn’t changed a bit since you last saw him—and what a reunion! What a celebration! One hell of a party! Well, that’s what I think happens when our work is done here, and we return home to God who welcomes us with a big hug and big celebration!”


That’s a really nice way to think about death and the loss of a precious loved one. He’s really not lost but he’s been found by an old friend, and they’re partying.

This theme occurs again and again in the Old and the New Testament, the theme of the wanderer and the homecoming, and the promise of a rich banquet waiting for us when death is destroyed. There’s the promise of no more tears and suffering.

The prophet Isaiah preached that message many, many years ago, when he delivered the Lord’s message that there’s a huge party in store for those who love their God; there’ll be good food and plenty of wine. No more death and no more tears and no more suffering.

In a beautiful image, our Psalm today describes us like a deer thirsting for streams of life–giving water; it’s a way of describing our souls and their yearning for unity with God. The Psalmist sings that his — or her — soul “thirsts for God, the living God.” The Psalmist sings that when he crosses the threshold to the other side, to the abode of God, there will be loud cries of thanksgiving and festival. That’s what my old monk friend was describing for me: it’s the joyful reunion when old friends get together after a long separation. Like the Psalmist, they recall the old times and they pour out their hearts.

Revelation teaches us that all will be made new and the holy city Jerusalem will appear decked out like a new bride. In the new order, the Kingdom of God, God will dwell with us, there will be no more tears, no more death or mourning, no more pain. Everything will be made new. We will be made new.

Deep inside, we are all spiritual beings, pure spirit, soul, eternal. God created and put uspirit-leaving-his-dead-body on this earth so that someone would share and enjoy creation with Him—I guess He needed playmates. But the soul, the eternal divine part of us, is constantly yearning, thirsting to return to be one with God. It’s painful to be separated but we all know deep down inside that what we really want is to return to our eternal home.

There’s beautiful Celtic story about a man who has died and his soul steps out of his body to go home. But at the door of the house, the soul turns around and gazes upon the man’s lifeless body, and the soul is pained with both sorrow and gratitude. The soul turns around, moves close to the man’s body, bends down and kisses him saying, “Thank you for sheltering me and protecting me. I am truly grateful to you but now I must return.” Like the grateful, loving soul, we too, should be grateful to our loved one here, Ronnie, for sheltering, protecting, providing for, teaching, and loving you. Like the soul, we should approach Ronnie saying we are grateful to you, but now you have to return. It sure hurts but it’s meant to be that way.

And you know, I have to confess that I chose an unusual Gospel today from Luke. It’s unusual because it’s a Gospel that we don’t read at occasions such as this one. I really don’t understand Why not? except that the story has been repeated forever in a sort of really negative way, when in fact it is really a very comforting story, it’s our story, the story of humankind.

leaving homeI call it the Parable of the Homecoming, you probably recognized it as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the story of a rotten spoiled kid who squanders his inheritance and then wants to come home. Some of us would say his father must be nutz for taking him in and even worse, throwing a party for him. Most of us would side with the brother who just can’t understand why the brat of the family is being treated like a prince when he, the older brother, stuck it out at home and worked his fingers to the bone like a good son would. Sure, there’s a valuable morality tale here and can be correctly viewed either as pretty unfair or as a parable of love and reconciliation. I have no real problem with that, but I do see it differently.

I actually divide the parable up into about four parts: the first part is the reality-life part, we receive gifts use them up, and then hard times hit. We have to bite the bullet and eat crow.

The second part is the regret part where we engage in what I call “magical thinking”; it’s when we say “what if,” “if only,” “shoulda, coulda, woulda” but it’s too late to change what’s happened. Time to admit we missed the mark and we have to go back to square one. The only question is How? How to grow from the experience? Happens a lot in life, doesn’t it?

in the distanceThe third part is the reconciliation part, where the father catches sight of the son returning and prepares a feast to welcome him home because “this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.” Only a loving dad or mom could think that way, and most of us here know that from personal experience, don’t we?

The fourth part is ego or false–self part, where the older brother does what any one of us would do: He sulks. He asks if his father has lost his mind? Here he’s celebrating the return of a disappointment, a failure. But the father responds with the words, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” What he’s saying is, “What are you complaining about? You have it all. Wake up and stop looking at everyone else!” In other words, be grateful, not envious, you have enough, you can share a little. Pull the stick out and join the party, dude!

The parable does what a parable is supposed to do: it shakes things up; it messes with our heads; it turns our expectations, our safe normal on its head; if we’re lucky, it gets us to think on a different level.

While here on earth we have our heavenly father’s inheritance at our disposal; we tend to squander it, just like the younger son did, or we make bad choices and suffer for them. We recognize that we’ve made some mistakes and we repent, we make a turnaround, and strive to get back on course, on the path home again. We turn around and head home back to where we should have been in the first place, in union with God, God sees us approaching, opens his arms, welcomes us, no questions asked, and has a feast prepared for us.

The rest of us, like the older brother, stand by and watch, knowing what’s happening and ask “Why him?” I’ve been good and yet I’m still here, laboring, suffering, hurting. Why am I not the guest of honor? Why’d he leave me behind? Well, the older brother is called to a new way of thinking, just as we are here today.

The father’s answer is reassuring and a promise: “You are here with me always, everything I have is yours.”

How can, could we have lost sight of that? Well we have to change the way we receive those words and how we think about them. It’s a spiritual lesson, it’s what the false self is constantly doing: it’s constantly comparing, like the older brother, and asking why don’t I have what he’s getting; he was a lousy son and I was a good son. What the fudge? But the father’s response is a wake up call. It’s an in your face reminder of what you’ve forgotten, missed right under your nose: You are with me here always, everything I have is yours, including the learning experience. Yes the older brother has to learn qualitatively what the younger brother has already learned.

questionmarkIt’s that nasty question we always ask, Why? It’s what I would call the control question. It’s the “I–really-need to have some answers” question. We’re so arrogant that we actually think we could understand God’s ways! Why? not the question we should be asking. And the older brother is asking that very question. But God doesn’t have to explain things to us. We should be asking How? How do I find meaning in this situation? How do I grow from this? How has this changed me, transformed me in terms of how I live my life from this point on? You see, as the father seems to point out in the parable, you may be for God, you may be against God, but you’re never without God.

Ronnie was with us, lived among us, was of us but was not ours to keep. Like all of creation, God put Ronnie among us to reveal to us something about God. That’s why God created the cosmos, so that his creatures could know him, so that he could reveal a bit of Himself to his creatures through his creatures. God created humankind, though, a bit higher-maintenance than the rest of creation and a little less than the angels, but nevertheless He put his Holy Spirit in us when he breathed life into the original man of clay. When he did that he gave us the power to make choices, something the angels didn’t have, and when we decided to use that power of choice to go against God, he sent us out to make our own choices, but remained always ready to welcome us back once we’ve made our experiences. dark mirror Moreover, there’s always that little spark of God in each of us that is always straining to be reunited with God, its very source. Well, that’s the myth of Adam and Eve but it explains a lot of what goes on while God’s spirit, our soul, is occupying these fragile bodies. But there’s always something deep down inside of every human being that’s uncomfortable here, something that’s always stirring —I’m sure many of you have felt it—, something that almost feels like it wants to get out of this mortal frame. That’s the soul, the stuff of the divine, who like the thirsty deer, thirsts to return to God. It’s the soul wanting to reclaim its, our inheritance. The soul wants to shine and like a shiny mirror reflect itself as the image of God but, in human form, the mirror is dull, dusty, and as old Isaiah teaches, there’s a veil over it; to truly reflect the divine image the soul must be free of the bonds of this life, this body cannot enter the realm of the pure spirits, the realm of the angels and of God, we have to shed this tired old dwelling and move on when our journey is done.

If you listen and look carefully, you’ll find that you don’t have to consult the Bible to read that. You can find it in as unlikely a place as rock music, and in a moment, we’ll hear a song by the rock group, Chicago, it’s a very special song for Nancy and Ronnie, it’s called “You’re the Inspiration.” Normally, I would not have a secular song in the middle of a liturgical service but this one is different, and I’d like you to listen carefully to the words. Yes, it’s a song of two lovers, it’s a love song, but it could almost be the soul singing to God or vice versa. It’s chock full of deep theology of a love relationship. That’s why I put it in the service right after this homily. Indeed, that rock song describes in modern language what we’ve been discussing: our love was meant to be, it lasts forever; I want you here with me; you’re always on my mind, in my heart, in my soul. I was dead but now I’m alive; once lost but now found.

Following that musical meditation, Roy Bordeau will lead us in the Litany of Thanksgiving and Remembrance, and we’ll reflect on our gratitude for Ronnie, we’ll give thanks for what he shared with us, and we’ll remember some of the wonderful things about him that enriched and will continue to enrich our lives. His kindness, his simplicity, his generosity, his cheerfulness in suffering all provide us with enduring meaning. Everything of value that Ronnie had to truly give is ours now; we should be good stewards and use his legacy wisely. In Ronnie, and looking around this room today, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we would know that the Father is here with us always.

Our Christian faith compels us to believe what the Father says about his younger son to his older son: This son of mine was dead in the world, and has come to eternal life again; he was lost to me, but now has been found” The celebration has begun.

Peace be to you!


To read or download a pdf of this homily please click Homily for Ronnie Morris_the Guest of Honor.

Posted in Commendation, Committal, Compassion, Family Interview, Grief, Holy Scripture, Homecoming, Hope, Interfaith Chaplain, Memory, Prodigal Son, Psalm 42, Psalms, Safely Home, Spirtuality, Sudden Death, Theology, Unfinished Business | Leave a comment

EdOp: A Life Should Be Celebrated

Very frequently we have to re-educate our colleagues in the funeral services profession that every family, every loved one who has died, deserves some form of spirituality in their final farewells. I’ve commented on that aspect of my chaplaincy ministry in greater detail in my article When Your Funeral Director Doesn’t Offer Chaplain Services, which may be of interest not only to those among you who are celebrants or officiants but also to those of you who are pre-planning or who will need to plan a funeral or memorial service for yourself or a family member. Everyone wants, needs to be remembered, and everyone leaves us with valuable meaning and legacy. The funeral or memorial homily should emphasize that fact and package it so that the bereaved and mourners can benefit from the insights.

A Life Should Not Only Be Lived, It Should Be Celebrated.


I like the image of the homily as being a package or a container, and as such it has to be of appropriate material and dimensions if it is to contain the intended message and insights that will aid mourners in their grief work and their healing and transformation. After all, who would take their mashed potatoes and gravy home in a brown paper bag? Similarly, a homily should not be nondescript, lifeless, neutral, if it is to contain spiritual nourishment for mourners, should it?

Another thought that comes to mind is that a funeral or memorial homily is similar to the Sunday homily in a couple of ways: First of all, like the Sunday homily it must connect the readings from Holy Scripture, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or other readings, with what follows, that is, the final separation of the dead from the living, the closure of disposition of the mortal remains. It must celebrate a spiritual doctrine, most frequently that of resurrection and eternal life in some form; in other words, it must deliver a message confirming hope without proselytizing. Thirdly, it should relate the readings to the lives of the living without excessive theologizing, critique, or pedantry. No one at a funeral or memorial is in the mood for a lecture. A final note that I’d like to make is that it should provide insights that will allow mourners in their own individual and personal experiences to find meaning in the life of the deceased. That meaning-making should be theirs, personal, and relevant (that’s where skilled interviewing during the family conference comes in handy). As an effective homilist I must honor communion in diversity.

While the funeral or memorial homily shares quite a number of features with the Sunday homily, it differs substantially from the Sunday homily in several ways, too. For one thing, the assembly at the Sunday homily will probably be regulars every Sunday. They will share certain socio-economic, cultural—including linguistic—and tradition features. They will also have certain needs and expectations, with which the preacher will be or should be intimately familiar, if he is a pastor worth his salt. In other words, the preacher and the assembly have some idea of what to expect when they walk through the doors of that sacred space.

Another similarity is that the preacher will likely know to some degree the people in the pews, he’ll be somewhat familiar with their personalities, their idiosyncrasies, their problems, fears, interests, their spiritualities, etc. In other words, the assembly will have all of the interpersonal features of an extended family, if you will. That makes it somewhat easier to craft a homily based on the Lectionary and on the listeners.


Rather than produce a dirge of a homily or deviating from the nature of the homily and perverting it to make it an eulogy, I prefer focusing on the life of the deceased and the characteristics of the family…

The Sunday homily will be based on readings for that particular liturgical cycle as laid down in the Lectionary for that particular Sunday. This has the advantage that both the preacher and the assembly can review in advance the readings, and even prayerfully reflect on them in lectio divina. We must approach the Sacred Scriptures—no matter what the faith or belief tradition—with prayerful attentiveness and move towards reflection on its meaning, in order to share its beauty and power. Lectio divina, therefore,  should also find a place in the process of crafting the funeral or memorial homily because there is a sort of lectionary of sacred readings in most of the ritual books for funerals. In some cases, we are stuck with those readings because of the directives of the particular tradition. For example, in the Roman Catholic tradition one of the requirements is to emphasize the Paschal Mystery in the homily; consequently, the readings in the lectionary of the Order of Christian Funerals, the ritual book for Roman Catholic death rites, includes readings that follow that guideline. But rather than produce a dirge of a homily or deviating from the nature of the homily and perverting it to make it an eulogy, I prefer focusing on the life of the deceased and the characteristics of the family, to expand my options to include other readings not included in the lectionary. Sacred Scripture is at the heart of the homily regardless of the tradition, and it is such a treasure trove of relevant material that we should take advantage of the entire corpus of material available to us.

While meditating on the nature of the homily, I had an epiphany of sorts: Unless the assembly is a very homogeneous group, the funeral or memorial homily is very much like the homily that a missionary would deliver to a heterogeneous group made up of believers and unbelievers or agnostics. In other words, as a funeral officiant I am frequently addressing a very mixed assembly and must be exceedingly careful to honor each member in that assembly while avoiding any appearance of judgmentalism. I must also avoid proselytizing, evangelization, catechization while showing respect and reverence for the various belief and faith traditions represented in the assembly, and being privileged to be the homilist at such an intimate time I have a duty to respond their hunger for deeper spirituality, nourish them with truth and guidance, and instruct them in the beauty and wisdom of tradition. In essence, then, I frequently have to approach the assembly of mourners as a mystagogue initiating or re-initiating them into a faith, spirituality or at least a belief system, almost analogous to the missionary in the wilderness.

metanoiteEvery Homily is a Summons to Conversion; Metanoite!

As a homilist I have to be driven, impelled by Love. It is Love that gives reality and beauty and meaning to all of creation, and it is Love that will inspire community, meaning, healing and transformation in the bereaved. Love is extending one’s self for the nurturance of spiritual growth in the other. We must keep in mind that every homily is a summons to conversion, to metanoia. It is the homilist’s art through the words, insights, and examples of the homily to compellingly and inevitably guide the listener to a desire to change, to transform.


I read in the USCCB statement, Preaching the Mystery of Faith:

“Homilies are inspirational when they touch the deepest levels of the human heart and address the real questions of human experience. While I don’t want to flavor this article with any particular tradition, I would go on to quote that statement in that “Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Spe Salvi, spoke of people having ‘little hopes’ and the ‘great hopes’. Little hopes are those ordinary experiences of joy and satisfaction we often experience…But underneath these smaller hopes must pulsate a deeper “great hope” that ultimately gives meaning to all of our experience: the hope for life beyond death, the thirst for ultimate truth, goodness, beauty, and peace, the hope for communion with God himself.”

Whatever one’s concept of God might be, even if one has no concept, these greater hopes keep one going day by day. And it is, after all, Hope that every homily aims to provide.

And what better way to celebrate a life lived than to preach hope?

This seems like a good place to stop, so I’ll leave you with that thought.

Peace and Hope always!

Chaplain Harold

Posted in Arrangements, Bereavement, Celebrate Life, Celebration of Life, Compassion, Conversion, Cremation Service, Culture, Death, Ear of the Heart, Empathy, Family Interview, Fulfilled in Your Hearing, Funeral Homily, Funeral Service, Grief, Holy Scripture, Homiletics, Hope, Interfaith, Interfaith Chaplain, Lectio divina, Listening, Memorial Service, Metanoia, Preaching the Mystery of Faith, Sensitivity, Sermon, Spirtuality, Tradition | Leave a comment

Culture and Tradition: What unites a family.

The Homilist Cannot Ignore Culture and Tradition

When serving a large Italian family: four generations, 8 children, 17 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, and a chapel filled to overflowing, we become acutely aware that something really big is afoot, and it’s called tradition.

The matriarch is dead and she leaves a legacy of three generations after her, and stories to fill a lifetime. You quickly realize how important a family’s traditions and culture are when you listen to the expressions used in the course of the initial interview, when you find you are not just chatting with a single go-to person for arrangements but the conversation is on speaker phone and seven or eight persons are chiming in with stories, remarks, and “Do you remember when’s.”

This homily also illustrates how you can weave the information bits obtained in the course of the initial interview into the homily to make it more intimate, more personal, and by doing so pull the mourners into the action of the homily. As a whole, then, the homily will be successful in bringing life, memories and Holy Scripture into a unique message of healing.

Enter coïncidence and strong bonds of trust and confidence are formed. Add a beautiful poem, Italian culture, and the homily quickly takes shape.

wooden cross with flowersAnnabelle Cicorelli Order of Funeral Rites∗ November 23, 1933 – † December 22, 2015

“Looking Beyond Earth’s Shadows”

One of the first things I learn about a “case” before it becomes a “person” is the name. So, initially, I have to work only with a name. I’m sometimes fortunate, when that name generates thoughts, and I immediately reflect on the name.

St_Francis of AssisiAnnabella Ciccarelli. Now that’s a name with a very long history stretching back to ancient Rome. It’s recorded in a wide variety of spellings include Ciccolo, Cicconi, Ciccerale, Ciccarelli and Ciccarello. Ciccarelli is Italian: it’s a patronymic, an Italian surname of Roman-Latin origins. It comes from the personal name “Franciscus” or Francesco, the diminutive form of which is Cicco or Cecco. The popularity of “Francesco” it is said, was due in large measure to the fame of St. Francis of Assisi (1187 – 1226). It’s not surprising that it became a personal name back in the 5th century.

Annabelle comes from the Latin name, Amabella means beautiful, loving, lovable, graceful.

And so all of this brought my focus to Italy, Umbria, St Francis of Assisi, sunshine, hospitality, laughter, generosity, cheerfulness. Sunflowers. In Umbria there are fields and fields of sunflowers. Who could that possibly remind you of? A handful of connections but only that; I couldn’t have known how they all fit together, until I spoke to Pam and Mary Ellen.

I had never seen the memorial card they chose for Anna; all I knew was that the poem was “Safely Home,” a lovely poem–prayer full of theology, but it didn’t have much to do with sunflowers at all. But the image the girls had chosen for the card was sunflowers, and the theme I had chosen for today’s service was, Guess what? Sunflowers! Uncanny! Something awesome was at work here.

sunflower2Sunflowers symbolize adoration, loyalty and longevity. Much of the meaning of sunflowers stems from its namesake, the sun itself. These flowers are unique in that they have attributes which mirror the sun’s warmth and light. Sunflowers are a symbol of powerful optimism and cheerful expectancy. Sunflowers are symbolic of adoration. And did you know that sunflowers actually turn their heads to follow the sun? That is the origin of their common name in Italian, Girasole, turn to the sun. Sunflowers belong to the genus Helianthus, a reference to Helios, the sun god, also a reference to Jesus Christ, Light of the World (Jn 8:12, Mt 5:14).

Sunflowers are known for being “happy” flowers, making them the perfect gift to bring joy to someone’s day. Now who comes to mind with all this?

heavenly-home-pictureBut even before all of this, I had turned my attention to the poem, Safely Home, and was amazed at the theology contained in those few lines. There I read about “home in heaven” and I recalled St Paul and our Gospel today. “Brightness”, “illumination,” “everlasting light,” “looking beyond the shadows.” All images of light that call to mind that Christ is the light of the world. The poem talks of “joy and beauty,” that “pain and grief is over,” “trust in the Father’s will,” a gentle “call home,” “rapture of meeting” or reunion, a “joy to see you come” home. “Peace,” “calm,” “joy and beauty.” After reading that poem, I mused with skipping the homily and reading the poem instead! This it’s not just a poem, it’s a prayer, a sermon full of Gospel.

Does all of this sound familiar to you? Was Annabelle a sunflower in a former life? Look at the picture on the program / up front here; Annabelle is gazing upwards, skywards, towards the light, just as a sunflower would do, and she has such a genuine smile. Yeah! You’re probably thinking this guy’s on wacky–weed or has OD’ed on his incense. Maybe, but you can’t deny the imagery, the associations, can you?

If I were talking to Annabelle right now, I’d say to her: You are cheerful and friendly, but have an emotional side, too. You like to have several lines of effort going at once, sort of like crocheting. You are a good talker and promoter and seldom worry needlessly over anything, there’s always a good joke to retell. At times, you can be impatient, and impulsive, especially in a Yahtzee game. But you have the ability to bring an idea to completion. You can express yourself joyously and constructively. You might be psychic, but not know it. You are intuitive and might be interested in the arts, drama or science. Well, if gadgets qualify as science, Anna would be Nobel prize material, even if the bread machine never saw any bread.

oie_jpg(1)Anna, you are creative and outgoing, you are always looking for an opportunity to show your abilities, especially before audience. You’d have an Oscar in shock and awe, but you loved honest, good fun with people. You are very flexible and like to feel appreciated. You are looking for chances to mix with others socially and to communicate your ideas. You like to talk and can easily relate to different cultures and concepts, but jokes are the best, especially shocking jokes. You could keep everyone on their toes and in good humor, even the nurses. The biggest challenge for you is uncertainty. I can see where you’d easily get bored; but you loved your job and you stuck with it. Your high creative force can lead you to crocheting, collecting dolls, or Yahtzee. If you understand your goals, if you can make major decisions in life and follow them, directly and straight up without worry and uncertainty, you are able to achieve great heights. And so you did, Anna, by raising eight beautiful, loving children almost single – handedly.

Our readings today as well as our music repeat those themes. Each of you should have a prayer card with Safely Home. When you get home you can download “All I ask from you,” a number from Phantom of the Opera, a love story, and make your comparisons. They all tell of light, joy, love, homecoming, an end to tears and suffering, “looking beyond earth’s shadows” and experiencing light and brightness.

They all inspire a sense of hope in us. St John’s Gospel starts out with “do not let your hearts be troubled.” Home Safely tells us “You must not grieve so sorely…look beyond the shadows…trust our Father’s will.” Our Gospel tells us that Christ has gone before us to prepare a place for us and that He will return to take us home. Safely home promises that when our “work is all completed, He will gently call you home.” Later today we’ll hear the familiar Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd, which echoes lines from Safely Home: “I so calmly trod the valley of the shade…but Jesus’ love illumined every dark and fearful glade.”

Psalm23_Shepherd-LambOur first reading from Isaiah tells us of the good things to expect, similar to Ps 23, which sings that our cup runneth over and that a banquet is prepared for us. Similar to St John in Revelations we are told that “God will wipe away all tears.” Our readings today tell us that we will have peace, joy, and that God will save us if we trust in Him, if we look to Him. Psalm 25 sings that we lift up our souls to the God we trust. We ask Him to “guide us by His fidelity,” and to “teach us His ways.” We ask him to have “compassion and mercy,” to forget the “sins of our youth.”

Why? Because as St Paul teaches in our third reading, we are “led by the Spirit of God”, we are “children of God,” and therefore God’s heirs. We call out to Him, “Abba, Father!” St Paul also teaches that the sufferings of this world are nothing compared to the glory that awaits us, that all of creation is groaning as if in labor, waiting to return to God. After all it’s that going home that is the ultimate goal.

St Paul asks us “Who hopes for something he can already see?” If you know what’s in the gift box under the tree, do you continue hoping for it? No, of course not! It’s there, yours within reach. He goes on to say that if we hope for something we don’t see, we wait patiently. What else is there to do? We hope that our lover, Christ, as we hear in “All I Ask From You,” is there for us, and that’s all we ask from Him or from each other. We hope that we will be resurrected in glory to see with the eyes of the Spirit our loved one again. We hope that in the end we are faithful and trust in God so that we can enjoy the place He has prepared for us.

We just celebrated the Feast of the Incarnation a.k.a. Christmas day yesterday. That was the culmination of the 4 weeks of advent, a period of preparation and expectation. Interestingly, this past Sunday was the fourth Sunday in Advent, the Sunday where we read the Gospel according to Matthew that drives us all nutz recounting who begat whom in three volleys of 14 generations. That may have been immensely important to first century Jews but makes us 21st Century Christians crazy. What’s the sense? you have to ask.

Well, the sense is the importance of genealogy, of your roots. Look around you here today: Here in this chapel you have four, count them FOUR generations! Annabelle, aunt Sandy and aunt Millie are No. 1. Mary – Ellen, John, Florence, Pamela, Dominick, Carmen, Patti are No. 2, the 17 grandchildren are No. 3, and the 18 great – grandchildren are No 4. Now how often can you get 4 generations in one room at the same time, I ask you? That’s the importance of knowing where you came from because it gives your life meaning; it gives you something important to share. It makes you feel valuable. You have a shared personal history just as you have a common spiritual history; you are all interconnected like a field of sunflowers.


And so we make full circle back to the Sunflower following the sun; a suitable image of us in our spiritual journeys following the light, the light of previous generations, the love, the connection, the promises, all of this just a sampling in human terms of the great and glorious things that await us if we trust in God. We read our Holy Scriptures and we remember. We look at each other, 4 generations alive and well, and you read your family’s story in your faces. You look at each other and see the face of God. On the one hand the story of the family of all creation, on the other hand the story of a little model of creation, the family. How awesome if you take the time to ponder it all.

How appropriate at this time of year, when our thoughts — one would hope — are first on giving thanks for the many gifts we have received, and then we focus on the Feast of the Incarnation, Natale, the birth of a divine savior, a messiah, an ancient promise kept, and so we give thanks. We look forward now to a New Year 2016, and we look forward with a certain anxiety, a certain anticipation — all change is accompanied by anxiety and anticipation — but most of all we look to the future with hope. Just as the lovely sunflower keeps adoringly, hopefully following the sun, so too, should we, in hope, keep our eye on our source of light, our Lord, and in that light live in hope of our own future of glory, as we now remember Annabelle, who has gone before us.


To read or download a pdf of this homily please click Homily_Annabelle T. Ciccarelli_final.

Posted in Bereavement, Committal, Culture, Death, Family Interview, Funeral Service, Grief, Holy Scripture, Homiletics, Italian, Matriarch, Poem, Poetry, Psalm 23, Safely Home, Shepherd, St Francis of Assisi, Sunflower, The Lord is my Shepherd, Theology, Tradition | Leave a comment

A Murder Victim: Giving Meaning to the Senseless

An expected death, when it finally happens, is traumatic. Sudden death by accident is even more traumatic because it tears one out of the bounds of normal, it deletes any notion of security or control; it’s a rude awakening to the uncertainties of life. Death by any name is naturally unnatural if only because it’s generally not anticipated — even when it’s anticipated — and we prefer to remain unaware of its certainty. Death is the unwelcome expected visitor, we may run but we can’t hide; we may deny it but it doesn’t make it go away.


While I am not suggesting that one type of bereavement is worse than another, I am suggesting that in some types of bereavement other extraordinary factors and reactions impinge upon the survivors; this statement is true for survivors of murder and of suicide.

In both murder (and in suicide) outside factors such as the media, law enforcement, the judicial system add to the grief reaction and associated emotions. And then there’s the stigma that follows on the heels of murder and suicide.

Both types of traumatic deaths, murder and suicide,  involve cognitive dissonance — the survivors simply cannot comprehend or get their arms around what’s happened —, in murder, the normal anger of grief morphs into rage and hostility; the survivor may have even have thoughts of violently destroying the murderer, and is confused and even ashamed by such thoughts; the survivor experiences anxiety, fearfulness, insecurity, and feels vulnerable to further psychological or physical trauma. This list is not intended to be exhaustive but merely to point out some of the extraordinary features of survivor grief in murder.

Say what you will about the Visitor who never leaves empty handed, no one really knows the pain like the survivors of murder. When another human being intentionally takes the life of another human being, death becomes the ultimate horrible paradox. When a human being takes the life of another human being not out of rage or loss of mental faculties but because of avarice, greed, simple materialism, that death conjures up thoughts, emotions, sentiments we’d rather not admit.

This homily was delivered at the funeral of a young man, just 38 years old, a father, a beloved. A young man who didn’t have it easy but transformed his life, went into a carpenter apprenticeship to learn a trade, did well, and was about to complete his training, when he was brutally beaten, robbed, and died of his injuries.

I was contacted by a distraught family needing answers where there were none. The saving grace of the situation was that they had faith and hope. In fact, the family was blended in many ways; the young man was drawn to Islam, his fiancée was Christian. The request was to honor both faith traditions, and drawing on the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Scriptures, I was able to inspire hope and comfort.

While it is a fact of life that must be accepted that there are misguided, even evil people in the world, who do misguided and evil things to good people, we cannot sustain a healthy frame of mind by pursuing such a reasoning. Only faith, compassion, and empathy can come to our rescue; only the mystery of Love — extending ourselves in the interest of the spiritual growth of the sufferers — was going to assuage the agony. After all, how do you give meaning to the senseless?

bismOfficiant’s Words of Comfort
to the family and Friends of
∗October 22, 1976– †August 22, 2015

A Carpenter’s Tool Belt, Hip – Hop, Love — Transformation
Delivered by Chaplain Harold W. Vadney on September 12, 2015

transformationsFaced with the mystery of life, untimely tragic death, and the feelings of loss, confusion, anger, even despair, I was pondering Michael’s spirituality, his interest in the paths we take to God, to Allah, and the scripture verses that we would read today and the beautiful Islamic prayers Anjum offered today, and how I could incorporate in a few words of personal comfort I could share with you today. How was I to do justice to the many facets of this remarkable man, Michael.

There was just so much to Michael and so much of it was so complex. It appeared almost contradictory at first. But then I started to look at it all and I began to see the trees that make the forest. It all became clear what was going on in this man and his meaning in this life. It all came together when I looked more deeply at the transformation that took place in Michael’s short life among us. I thought of the caterpillar going into its cocoon, only to emerge as a beautiful butterfly for but a brief time in our world, and then to leave us with its tiny footprints, traces of its meaning in our garden. We can look at the same transformation in Jesus Christ when he embarked on his ministry, was put to death, when he was placed in the tomb, when he emerged resurrected and glorious. Or remembering the prophet Mohammad, Peace and Blessings be Upon Him, who according to the Holy Qur’an [Surah 17, verse 1], he was taken by night to the Holy Mount in Jerusalem to be shown some of the Signs of Allah. It is written that he was accompanied on this journey by the Angel Gabril (Jabril) mounted on a glistening white horse named Barak (Buraq), and with lightning speed was carried into the Seven Heavens to meet His Lord. Like those miraculous transfigurations, Michael, too, went through transformations as a believer, as a person of faith, and is promised a glorious resurrection and eternal life, now that he has seen God’s face.

Our first reading comes from that very same Isaiah who elsewhere prophesies that “every tear shall be wiped away” that we “will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.” (35:10; 51:11). But in our reading from Isaiah today (Is 55) we learn more about how different God is from us, his thoughts are not our thoughts; his ways are not our ways. Of course not! He’s God the Creator and we are his clay creatures! It is not for us to question divine Providence, our Destiny. Nevertheles, Isaiah goes on to preach that we are invited to seek the Lord, to be motivated by his love and mercy, and if we do that a banquet of joy and strength is waiting for us.

In our second reading from Psalm 127 we learn that God establishes families and that the prosperity we enjoy is not the work of human beings but is a gift from God. The Psalmist points out that the gift of children to a man is like a quiver full of arrows; they make him strong against adversity and adversaries. A man’s strength, in other words, is in his children. In fact, the People of the Book, Jews, Christians, Muslims believe that taking care of family is a priority, and if you did not have children and many of them you were cursed, and you would be condemned to be forgotten; you would literally never have existed, there would be no memory of you. That’s scary stuff and it sounds like something from weird science fiction. So according to Isaiah, “Certainly children are a gift from the Lord,” they’re a sign of the Lord’s favor. And Michael was certainly blessed with 6 beautiful children: his oldest son Marquise, and four beautiful daughters: Alexis, Mikaela, Olivia, Mary Ellen, and young son Kaleb. Keep those children close and talk to them often about Michael.

Our third reading today warns us not to conform this age, these bizarre materialistic, confused times, the weird and crazy world we live in where bad things happen to good people. St Paul teaches us to allow ourselves to be transformed — there’s that word again — by “clothing ourselves with incorruptibility, in immortality” in order to be able to receive perfect victory form God through Jesus Christ, that victory is over death itself. Our victory is our triumph over the sting of death, it is our transformation from the corruptible to the incorruptible, from the mortal to the immortal. I think St Paul is also warning us not to get big heads but to be humble and grateful; in other words, not to think too much of ourselves but to get a grip on who we really are; sinful creatures made of clay, who will someday return to the clay. Sin gives death its sting; and sin is distancing ourselves from God and His law: To love God with all our hearts and souls, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I’d take that a step further and say that we are to love our neighbor as we’d like to be loved ourselves. I our prayers today the Our Father, we’ll ask God to forgive us just as we forgive others. Can you do that? Well that’s the challenge.

We are all different according to our gifts, and we should use those gifts properly. We are to love sincerely and honestly, to hold on to what is good, to love one another, to respect one another. To rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. To live at peace with all, and to conquer evil with good. By doing that, we live God’s law, are delivered from sin, and are rewarded with victory. I believe that was Michael’s outlook, too, you can read it in his kind face, his beautiful smile; you can find it in his transformations through his life. Look there and you’ll find great meaning for your own lives.

The Holy Quran teaches a very similar lesson at Sura 41:30 where we read: “[For] those who proclaim ‘Our Lord is God,” and then lead a righteous life, the angels descend upon them: “You shall have no fear, nor shall you grieve. Rejoice in the good news that Paradise has been reserved for you.” “You shall have no fear, nor shall you grieve,” these words echo our reading from Isaiah today, “For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Our Gospel wraps all of this up in its message that invites the burdened and the suffering among us to approach the Lord, who promises that the righteous will find the burden easy and the yoke light. St John, in another place (Jn 14) tells us not to let our hearts “be troubled”, that in the Father’s house there is a place for everyone, and that it is being prepared for us. And Matthew (Mt 25:31 – 46), again, teaches that those who ease suffering, those who discern what is God’s plan, what is pleasing and perfect, will be astonished to learn that in caring for the needs of those suffering among us they were ministering to the Lord himself; the self – centered, the wicked, the evil should not be surprised that their neglect of sufferers was neglect of the Lord. The Holy Quran teaches an almost identical lesson, almost word for word.

But, you’ll try to remind me, Michael wasn’t a religious man. He didn’t attend church regularly, so what’s all this about keeping the faith and righteousness? Well, here’s my take on all of that.

We’ve gathered here today to celebrate the life that Michael lived and to pray together and ask our Heavenly Father to help us discern the legacy and meaning that Michael left behind.

Michael understood the value of stuff, and of his fellow human beings. He also understood that things have little value in the timelessness and spacelessness of the eternity that awaits us all. I believe that in the end, Michael was ushered into paradise with applause because he was a good steward, gave generously, and truly understood the value of stuff—and of others.

screwdriverMichael was always ready to tinker or to fix. Never too busy to help out. Generous and loyal. We have only to think of his love for his children, his “discipline”, The carpenter’s tool belt should be seen as a symbol of Michael’s readiness to tinker, to repair, to help. To build. It’s also there in his response, “I build America. I build skyscrapers for a living.”

We talked about a butterfly earlier but now think of a can of spray paint. Holding a can of spray paint means you have a vision of what could be. Transformation. There’s something miraculous about paint. Did you ever drive by a shabby old house and then a couple of weeks later drive by and hardly recognize it once it was patched and painted. Carpenters and painters have been there!

Transformation! Michael had a remarkable attribute: he had the ability to see what could be and not just what was. Michael was remarkably capable of seeing beyond what was, the messes, the problems, the disillusionment, and Michael had hope and could bring hope to people, and to things, which the rest of us might call hopeless; Michael, I believe, saw hope there, in the apparent darkness of the forest, Michael saw the delicate rays of sunlight filtering through the treetops, bringing gifts of warmth and light to the life on the forest floor.
But Michael loved Hip – hop and there’s an important spiritual connection between spray paint and Hip – Hop culture as I’ll soon point out.

But while a can of spray paint can be a powerful symbol of transformational power and communication of vision, it changes only the outside of the thing. Michael knew that a more profound change had to take place: an inner change. This was Michael’s heartbeat, it was his intimacy with his God, his transformation. God wants us all to experience transformation not just on the outside, but from the inside out too. But that’s why that can of spray point is so symbolic to us today: it’s a powerful symbol of Michael’s life, that the old has gone and the new has come. But the change, the transformation in Michael was from within, and so it should be for us.

duct tapeA roll of duct tape. A roll of duct tape can sure hold things together if you know how to use it. That’s another symbol of Michael’s life: he held things together. He was one big roll of duct tape. And that’s what I think St Paul was teaching when he preaches, “He teaches us to love sincerely and honestly, to hold on to what is good, to love one another, to respect one another.” That’s what the Evangelist Matthew was telling us when Jesus tells us “what you did to the least one of my brothers and sisters you did to me.” Our Psalm teaches us that families are a gift from God; that children are gifts. All of this points to the simple fact that if we are motivated by the duct tape of love, respect, and doing what is good, we will have community, relationships, and prosperity. We are then truly blessed.

Michael loved Hip – Hop but how am I going to get Hip – Hop into this memorial service, you might well ask. Listen up!

Hip-Hop is an artistic culture birthed out of the American inner – city culture. The main artistic elements of the culture are deejaying, rapping, graffiti — spray-paint, an art form, really, communicating, transforming —, and break dancing. But if we were not to look deeper, we’d be doing ourselves an injustice because we’d be missing the creative soul force at the heart of hip-hop that it always seeking freedom. This creative soul force moves in all realms whether a church revival or block party on a summer day. This same spirit that we observed as being organic, holistic, communal, cognitive, affective, rhythmic and transformational exists in and helped to birth the Hip-Hop culture because it exists in the people who defined the culture. Hip-hop itself is a transformational medium. Maybe that’s why Michael liked it so much.

We can explore the power of call and response. In the Hip – Hop community call and response is known for inciting mutual dialogue between the leader and the audience, and it serves as a catalyst for establishing community and solidarity. Again both the black church and the Hip-Hop culture share another characteristic. During a church service or a hip-hop concert the words of the speaker are affirmed by the audience. In the church you may hear someone shot out “PREACH” or “AMEN” or if reciting a verse from a hymn the preacher will say the first part and the congregants will say the next. That’s mutual affirmation. And don’t we look for mutual affirmation from God in our prayers? We address God and we ask God to answer.

As for those living in the Hip-Hop community, those of us living outside the Hip – Hop community might suggest that their souls are often influenced by things not of God. So what is Hip-Hop spirituality? It is the creative force that exists in us as a people, as human beings in relationship, in community that links us to God regardless of the bondage we are in, whether the chains are visible or invisible, or appearances. This liberation spirituality is also tapping into that same creativity to make something out of nothing just as God did when forming the earth. The human soul birthed the Hip-Hop culture because we lost our identity when we were removed from our fundamental values, from our native communities. Thus the Hip-Hop culture should never be removed from the church, from spirituality or from worship, it should remain a part of it, because it is an expression of the soul crying out. It is spirituality because it is seeking the path to the divine, to an ultimate truth, to an original soul, to freedom of the human spirit.

But where is all of this coming from? How can we say this about Michael and his relationship with God, about knowing God and transforming from deep within? The answers will come to us in good time. We must be patient.

But for starters, I’d like to read some of the lyrics of Mr Al Green’s song, “A Change is Gonna Come,” which you’ll hear later in this service:

There’ve been times that I thought
I thought that I wouldn’t last for long.
But somehow right now
I believe that I’m able, I’m able to carry on.
I tell you that it’s been a long
And oh it’s been an uphill journey, all the way.
But I know, I know, I know.
I know my change is gonna come
I had to cry all night long. Yes I did
I had to give up right, for what I knew was wrong.
Yes it’s been an uphill journey.
It’s sure’s been a long way comin’. Yes it has.
It’s been real hard every step of the way.
But I believe, I believe.

Those are words many of us are actually experiencing now and they’re very wise words, too.

But I’ll close with a different thought for you to reflect on: Now if God had a can of spray paint, a roll of duct tape, and Michael singing Hip – Hop in his ear, what do you think they would come up with?

islamic_art_by_khattatAssalaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatu-Allah
Peace and blessings of God be unto you

Please click Homily_Presentation Text_MAB to download a pdf copy of this homily.

Posted in Bereavement, Blended Family, Cremation Service, Funeral Service, Grief, Holy Scripture, Homiletics, Islam, Memorial Service, Murder, Quran | Leave a comment

EdOp: On the homilist’s listening skills.

Many of our readers are pastoral or spiritual care providers, and only some actually have the opportunity to teach or to preach in a formal way, that is, by way of sermons or homilies.

Share the Link to Our New Blog, Homiletics and Spiritual Care

When Listening is Greater than Talking

Why the homilist should be a more skilled listener to be a better talker.


I feel that bereavement provides one of those moments of what we theologians call kairos, a supreme opportunity. If spiritual care providers are blessed with the opportunity to officiate at funeral or memorial celebrations, such opportunities are kairos moments not only for practicing our ministry of compassion for the suffering but also for proclaiming our fundamental sacred doctrines on living and dying, and what may come after.

We tend to talk a lot about homiletics and talk is what we apparently do best. But homiletics, good homiletics and the product, the revealing homily, requires good listening skills. Dag Hammarskold said, “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. Only he who listens can speak.” This brings me to mind two ways of communicating with that voice within: lectio divina and the lesser known lectio continua. I’ll have more to say about those two disciplines and their role in homiletics in a later article on the Homiletics and Sprititual Care blog. Reflection and self-examination are also very important when it comes to listening authentically. Again, I’ll comment on these in a later editorial.


For now it may be interesting to look at some listening statistics:


But here are some more startling listening facts:

Listening is the communication skill most of us use the most frequently. Various studies stress the importance of listening as a communication skill. A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.

Thought speed greater than speaking speed. Another reason for poor listening skills is that you and I can think faster than someone else can speak. Most of us speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute. However, we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute (if that were possible).

So listening is a critical skill that needs to be developed by us as spiritual care providers, particularly those of us involved in a teaching/preaching ministry that requires us to confect effective homilies.

big ear buddha 2

No doubt you have seen depictions of the Buddha with long pendulous ears and probably have asked yourself, “Why does Buddha have such big ears?” Well, in the Orient large ears are looked upon as auspicious because they indicate wisdom and compassion. So, the Buddha is depicted as having big ears because he is the compassionate one. He hears the sound of the world – hears the cries of suffering beings – and responds. The important thing for us is not how large our ears are, but how open are our “mind ears.”

As a professional interfaith chaplain practicing primarily in bereavement and grief facilitation, I find that listening, effective authentic listening is profoundly important in several prominent situations:

  • Initial interview
  • Family interview
  • During lectio divina and lectio continua
  • During reflection on potential readings
  • When selecting hymns
  • When rehearsing the homily.

Listening for the interfaith chaplain is also especially important when communicating with colleagues in spiritual care ministries of other faith and belief traditions, and in exchanges with hospital, nursing home, funeral home staff, and with members of the community.

An important concept to bear in mind when writing homilies is that while the assembly is listening to the words, the sounds coming from my vocal apparatus, they should be moved to listen to the internal voice that speaks in them during that outside listening. After all, that’s our target as homilists, to get that internal voice speaking and the listener listening to that voice.

Chaplain Harold


Special thanks go to Dick Lee and Delmar Hatesohl of the University of Missouri for their insights in:  “Listening: Our Most Used Communication Skill,” at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/CM150, last accessed on December 9, 2015.

Posted in Bereavement, Death, Family Interview, Funeral Service, Grief, Holy Scripture, Homiletics, Initial Interview, Lectio continua, Lectio divina, Listen with your heart, Listening, Memorial Service | Leave a comment

Of Quilts and Love

A common thread that runs through my homilies is the importance of bringing the assembly’s spirituality and core beliefs, their values, their shared experiences into a palpable and livable relation with Holy Scripture. By doing this, I believe I go straight to their core practical, personal theologies. That’s a great place to go to bring the listeners into contact with a greater theology. When they can relate and find something that they can get their arms around, especially in a very spiritually conducive and inducive venue like a funeral or memorial service, and associate the words with very profound emotions and personal memories, we have a very significant opportunity to bring the listeners home again.

In very basic terms the listener must embrace the words and the words must embrace the listener.

the embrace

Homily for NAR (“Nappy”)
Delivered on September 19, 2015

Of Quilts and Love

harvesttime quilt

“God never sees His children die; He simply sees them coming home.”

There’s a story that when one of his congregation was dying, John Watson, a Scottish pastor in Edinburgh, would kneel down and whisper in the person’s ear: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”

Then, with a contented sigh, the person would “slip away” – peacefully and unafraid. There is something about this great portion of scripture which consoles us.

If we could see, but only for an instant, just how glorious Nappy’s homecoming was, no one here would call him back to the limits of his frail and worn – out body.

Even though the Nappy who dwelt among us for 85 years, a good long life full of living, he will surely be missed, there is something very appropriate about his death, even as the author of Ecclesiastes teaches, “There is a time to be born, and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2).

Among the extraordinary long lived of Holy Scripture Methuselah (Genesis, 1 Chronicles 1:3, and Luke 3:37; Genesis 5:25-27 KJV) or Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who is the only woman in the Old Testament whose age is given. She was 127 (Genesis 23:1), Christian legend lists some long lived saints like Saint Servatius, bishop of Tongeren, is said to have lived for 375 years. Saint Kevin of Glendalough died in 618, legendarily at the age of 120 years. And so, too, other faith traditions have their oldies.

But Holy Scripture teaches us in Psalms (90:10) to have more reasonable expectations: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” Nappy did quite well by all accounts.

I think that it is appropriate to mention these because Nappy lived out a full, complete, life. Maybe not as long as some of the figures of the Old Testament but certainly long enough to have done it all and to have done it his way. Long enough to have provided you all with the stuff of legend that you will continue to talk about and from which you will almost eternally receive meaning. That’s the legacy of a long, rich life. You get to do a lot of stuff.

In that life, Nappy followed a unique path of spirituality, perhaps not obvious but he was a searcher, and in the end, I am told, he sought out and had accepted and known the love of God and of family, loves that he always had but perhaps didn’t always acknowledge in the ways we expected or hoped for. But we can be certain that the love was there.

In the end, Nappy’s house here on planet earth was pretty much in order; to be sure there was some unfinished business but that’s par for the course, if you’ll pardon the pun. I hope we can close some of the accounts today, during this service, and perhaps later. It’s time for forgiveness and reconciliation, it’s time for love and mutual support. It’s an opportunity for health and healing that we shouldn’t squander.

In the end Nappy was ready to die; I believe as a searcher he found at the end of the journey his path to God and died a Christian death, and that he sought and received God’s love, a certainty we are assured of, after all it is written: “There is nothing more certain than death, and nothing more unsure than life.” But there is one thing that is more certain and that is God’s love for us, which promises us victory over the only certainty in life, death. Life in these bodies, and life on this earth is temporal; but Nappy has gone to his true home, a home built with God’s own hands, a home that is eternal.

saint-paul-preachingSaint Paul in 2 Corinthians refers to our bodies as tents, and for a little while, a tent can be a wonderful home. When a hiker is in the mountains, enjoying the wonderful outdoors, a tent can be exactly what he needs when he becomes weary and needs a place to rest and be refreshed. While tents are wonderful for their intended purpose, a person doesn’t expect to live in a tent forever. Before long, a person longs “to go home” and live in a house, a structure that is much more permanent and sturdy than a tent.

And Matthew teaches that Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house are many mansions (or dwelling places). I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Tents are good for a purpose and helpful for a season, but they can wear out. The fabric can become weak and torn and the poles can collapse. St Paul, speaking of the trust of the faithful, writes in 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-8: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven. Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” In other words, while in this temporary dwelling, this tent we call the body, we long to be with the Lord, home in the mansions He provides.

There’s a lovely store that gives us what might be the clearest picture of what death means to a mature Christian. It’s about grand old John Quincy Adams and goes like this: When that Adams was approaching the ripe old age of 80 years, he was making his way down the street one day in his favorite city, Boston, leaning heavily on his cane. Suddenly a friend patted him on the shoulder and said, “Well, how’s John Quincy Adams this morning?”

The old man turned slowly, smiled, and said, “Fine, Sir, fine! But this old tenement that John Quincy lives in is not so good. The underpinning is about to fall away. The thatch is all gone off the roof, and the windows are so dim John Quincy can hardly see out anymore. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if before winter’s over he had to move out. But as for John Quincy Adams, he never was better… never was better!”

With this he started hobbling on down the street, believing without a shadow of a doubt that the real John Quincy Adams was not a body that you could keep in a casket or place in an urn; the real John Quincy Adams transcended all that and was eternally “Fine…never was better!”

He, like Nappy did in the end, and we are confessing today, recognized that beyond the temporary physical man on the outside, there is a spiritual and eternal man on the inside. The flesh dies and is decays, but the spirit lives forever with God.

When someone we love dies, we naturally feel a deep sense of loss, sadness, grief, maybe even anger. And when that loved one has been around for many, many years, even long before you’ve been alive, that person can become a monument, a bigger – than – life part of your life, and when they’re gone, it’s a bit hole to fill.

But today, beyond our natural human sadness and sense of loss, there is a greater joy that comes from our spirituality, our faith: We have the reality of Jesus. We have the reality of God’s love. We have the gift of real of forgiveness and reconciliation we can give each other, even if conditionally, just as we receive it unconditionally from our Creator God. We have the promise, the reality of the resurrection, the transformation from life to death to eternal life and meaning. We have the promise, the reality of eternal life in God’s perpetual light. W have the hope of future reunion with the spirits of those who have gone before us, of union with God.

Several years ago one of the churches produced a film about missionary work in Angola entitled, I’ll Sing, Not Cry. It was based on the book, African Manhunt, by Monroe Scott, which recounted Christ’s victories in the lives of Africans. There was the story of Pastor Ngango (Nah-gone-go), whose beloved wife had died. Great numbers of people came from far and wide to the funeral, and they wailed in the customary funeral dirge of despair, until pastor Ngango (Nah-gone-go) stood up by the casket and said, “Stop all this wailing and howling.” The mourners stood in shocked silence. “This woman was a child of God. She has gone to her Father. I loved her, but today we are not crying, we are singing.” And then he started to sing, “Amazing Grace,” and all the people, Christians and non – Christian natives, joined him in his song of praise. It was not a song of despair or fear or sadness. It was a song of praise to God, a song of our victory, a hymn of faith and confidence. We read that same message in Luke 19:40, that when the crowds praised the Messiah, “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” Jesus responded, “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” And so, the theme “I’ll sing, not cry.” reaches out to us across the centuries. Weeping may endure for the night. Our human emotions sometimes need release. But joy comes in the morning!

A tiny earthly light has gone out, but where Nappy now is, there’s no need for any earthly light. The glory of God, the Christ, Light of Nations, is shining brighter than the sun, in that radiance, and Nappy’s face is now glowing brilliantly in that glorious light!


So we come to the end of a journey; it’s been a good trip. Sometimes a bit rocky, others smooth as the surface of a tranquil pond; sometimes someone casts a rock into the pond and the surface gets a bit rough, but in time it all becomes peaceful again. That’s life. Deal with it. It’s a precious gift. Learn from it; it’s full of divine meaning. Be grateful for it and live it fully, it comes only once. An earthly journey has ended. A heavenly residence has been established.

What is our hope? What is our confidence? What is our expectation? Perhaps we can take some consolation from St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:50-56):

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet blast: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where [is] thy sting? O grave, where [is] thy victory?
The sting of death [is] sin; and the strength of sin [is] the law.
But thanks [be] to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”


victory in Christ

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Posted in 2 Corinthians, Bereavement, Death, Funeral Service, Grief, Holy Scripture, Homiletics, Longevity, Memorial Service, Psalm 90, Quilt, St Paul | Leave a comment

Suicide. Will God Forget Him?

Suicide. W. takes his own life. Where do we go with this. How do we approach such a traumatic death? How do we approach the family’s confusion, anger, despair?

I am fortunate that I have made suicide a subject of specialist study — scientifically. To embrace suicide pastorally is quite a different matter. The Why’s? are overwhelming but there is really no persuasive response to that question. Even the How? question poses some gargantuan problems. Suicide not only stigmatizes the person who has taken his or her own life but curiously, the deceased’s family is also stigmatized by the act. Many painful and insensitive questions are asked by outsiders, law enforcement, investigators, even by friends.

It is my task, the challenge for me, to somehow transform this complex situation into a meaning moment without being judgmental in any way whatsoever. God judges, not I. My purpose is to be present to the family and to support them in their grief in whatever way possible without being patronizing or unauthentic.

The deceased was a very popular, well-liked, socially very active individual, and his memorial service was very well attended by persons of almost every life stage, occupation and faith tradition, including RC religious. They were all listening.


The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

Memorial Homily for
September 8, 1940– † March 26, 2015

˜ Upon The Palms Of My Hands I Have Engraved Your Name ™

Delivered on Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Chaplain Harold W. Vadney M.Div.

Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
“Even should she forget, I will never forget you.
See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you
Isaiah 49:15 – 16

When I sat down to prepare for this evening, I couldn’t help but think about the news that broke last August 11, 2014, about the death of one of the funniest, most beloved, successful men alive: Robin Williams, who took his own life. Then, as now, we were confused, in awe, disbelief. How could someone who had achieved it all, someone so beloved, someone so damned funny just choose death? We’re faced with those very same questions today because just four days ago, W. Little, an intelligent, gifted and accomplished man, an athlete, a mentor to many chose death over life. And the answers to our questions have to remain where they’ve always been: between W. and God.

But this is a Celebration of Life, by the living. Sure, we’ve come together on an occasion of great sorrow and grief: sorrow above all for W’s family, his wife S., his sons W. and M., his beloved grandsons K. and J., his brother, and his many relatives, friends and acquaintances. We’ve come together to support and to grieve; not to judge; the Apostle James teaches that “judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas 2:13). The bottom line is, really, that we have come together to mourn a loved one who left this world so suddenly last Thursday.

Taking one’s own life is a particularly difficult kind of death to deal with, but Holy Scripture describes a number of examples, at least seven, of good, fine people who chose death over life, and numerous stories of important Biblical personalities who themselves stood at the brink of suicide. In fact, while suicide is a terrible thing in most people’s minds, the Bible doesn’t seem to condemn suicide; it doesn’t paint it as something good either but it does show us good people doing it for what seemed to them to be good reasons. That might seem odd to us here, in these circumstances, but it also helps us on our way to rethink our situation today.

Take for example, the great prophet Elijah, who was deeply loved by God, highly respected by all who knew him, successful in all he undertook, in his work and in his achievements. But one day Elijah felt so downhearted, so dispirited, he felt like a troubled guest in an alien world; he felt so depressed that he threw himself under a juniper tree and begged God to take him from this world (1 Kgs19:4). This great prophet, so successful, so respected, so loved, mysteriously felt ill at ease in this world and asked for death. We read similar accounts about King David’s despair in Psalm 38, King Solomon’s depression (Ecc 2:16 – 17), even St Paul’s devastating disappointment with the Corinthians (2 Cor 1:8 – 10). Despair, depression, hopelessness, the freedom to choose death over life to ease the pain is an old problem, probably as old as humankind itself.

W’s obituary calls this service a Celebration of life, and today we are doing several things: we are remembering W’s death, celebrating life, and reframing both in the context of our faith, in mercy and love, and celebrating that love. At the heart of all death and all life is mystery. Thinking of this mystery, we are reminded that we haven’t gathered here today to fault W. or anyone else. For some deep and intense and mysterious reason, known only to W. and to God — and I suppose that reason was better known to God than even to W. — W. simply finally ran out of energy, out of that special energy that we have to admit is so barely present in all of our lives. We all have experienced those moments of despair when the rose loses its scent, when music no longer moves us, when, like Elijah, we lie down under our own juniper trees and ask how we can possibly continue to live.

Even though we’re calling this a “celebration”, it would be bizarre if there were no great sorrow, no great grief. It’s been said that “Grief is a song that the heart must sing,” because grief is the memory created by love. Like love, grief can be very painful but it is also very powerful. In a mysterious way it keeps the person who is gone alive in his survivors. And it binds those who grieve in a special communion. So our celebration becomes bittersweet, love peppered with grief, grief sweetened with love.

I recall the story of the man who so loved a special spot where he could enjoy the green sea rising to meet the clear blue of the sky, bathed in the gold of sunlight; he built a beautiful house on that cliff overlooking his cherished view; but when the house was finished and he went to his balcony to admire the view, a fog had moved in and hid all the beauty he sought. Full of anger, despaired and disappointed, the man locked his doors and went away. But a week later the fog had cleared, revealing the radiant beauty of living creation. We all have fogs that roll in and cover our hearts, our minds, our spirits. That’s part of being human. But very often our very lives depend on the quiet patience to wait out the fog and the shadow. Some of us wait and some, like W., don’t. Why some wait and some don’t is a mystery; it’s a question that’s better for us to leave alone and leave to God.

Like the prophet Elijah, like W., most of us understand so very little about life and death. There’s a lot the person who is seeking relief in death doesn’t understand about life; that’s why he thinks the solution is in death. For some mysterious reason, in the quiet hidden recesses of his mind and soul, he doesn’t seem to understand that life has a lot going for it, that there are people who love him, people who would do pretty much anything for him. But does he turn to those whom he feels will understand — his family, friends, his God? Perhaps W. grew so close to his own hopelessness that he felt other people, those closest to him, would understand how he felt.

But we cannot understand; we are blind to what we can’t see. We saw the side of W. and his character that, for some strange and mysterious reason, W. couldn’t see himself. We see, we saw the treasure: the side that is full of promise and hope; the talent, the successes, the energy, the love, the humor. His love of cooking, wine, travel, of course chess, jogging, and so much more. We’ll remember W. the warrior and his 3 tours in war – torn Vietnam, and the heroism that earned him the Purple Heart and other decorations and commendations. Even beyond death, he is surely telling us that we must try to understand, try to accept that he opted for a solution when the world outside of him could not have been aware of the problem, or even that there was a problem at all. Truth be told, W. was not the best judge of what the solution was.

To be fair to ourselves and to W., we have to admit that there were problems. We can’t delude ourselves or try to paint over the problems with only half the truth of his remarkable personal qualities, his charm, his intelligence, his interest in sports.

W’s life was cut short by W.; but the fact that W’s life was cut short so tragically does not define its overall quality or detract from the real person W. was, could be. We have to put everything in context. Neither can we plague ourselves with unanswerable questions or magical thinking like, What if…”, “If only…”, Why…”. The question we have to ask ourselves at this point and moving forward is, How? How do we find meaning in W’s death? How do we learn from W’s life and his death how to be better persons, to show greater love and understanding for each other? How to listen with our hearts.

“Out of the depths I call to you, LORD; Lord, hear my cry! May your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy,” is how Ps 130, the Psalm we chant when processing to the gravesite, begins. For some it’s a loud call for help; for others it’s a silent scream, a cry that can be heard only by God’s ears. And God does hear it, even if we cannot discern it. But maybe that cry wasn’t meant for our physical ears at all, but rather for the ears of the heart.

The unseen feeling of powerlessness, hopelessness, depression, despair, worthlessness is every bit as deadly as a malignant tumor; every bit as scarring as shrapnel. But we human beings are visual organisms; after all, we have the saying, “Seeing is believing,” don’t we? The apostle Thomas’, better known as Doubting Thomas (John 20:24), is an example of our need to see in order to believe. He demanded to see and touch Christ’s wounds before he would believe He had risen as He had promised. Christ tells him “Stop doubting and believe.” Then Jesus tells him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We, too, find it hard to believe if we can’t see the wounds, the injury, the physical suffering; but what if the wounds, the injury, the physical suffering is of the spirit, of the soul? If we can’t see it, for most it’s simply not there. That’s probably why despair, hopelessness, depression are the high – blood pressures of the spirit and the soul; they’re silent killers. They’re silent because those outside the suffering soul may simply not be aware of or choose not to see the suffering, not to believe it’s there; that would be uncomfortable, unpleasant, even inconvenient. That might be why suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, why we have more than 38,000 people taking their own lives every year, why a person takes his or her own life in the U.S. every 13 minutes! Were you aware of those stats?

Statistics are one thing but to try to understand, especially when your heart is broken, is a supreme act of love. W. is asking you for that love.

Most importantly, though, our readings from Holy Scripture today teach us the reasons why even suicide cannot separate us from God’s love.

In this service, we are asking God to take W. to himself. We ask this with the confidence of our faith: as our Psalm reading, today teaches that when tears become our daily bread, when the waters of chaos wash over us, when our spirit is downcast and our soul groans within us, we turn in prayer to God, we thirst for our Rock, our Savior.

And St Paul asks in his Pastoral Letter to the Romans 8:32, “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” Will anguish, or distress, or depression, or confusion, or bad choices, or peril, or even choosing death over life? The answer is like a trumpet blast from the heavens: Nothing! “Neither death, nor life…, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In our Gospel reading, the Evangelist Matthew teaches us of the Savior Jesus’ words of invitation and promise: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest…Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” “Come to me…and I will give you rest.”

These are not empty words of insincere comforters or self – serving preachers; these, dear people, are words of Divine Promise! Heed them well. Lock them in your hearts, and be at peace.

Jesus taught an important lesson of kindness and compassion, two gifts he left in this sorry, suffering world of ours. He taught consolation and promise of good things to come. Realistically, you will have many a difficult day and night but we know that God understands grief — Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, his beloved friend. God understands loneliness, He wept in the garden of Gethsemane; he felt the despair of loneliness and rejection walking to Golgotha, looking down from the cross. Right now, in this the holiest week of the year, we remember, we relive those awesome moments; and on this Sunday, as on every Sunday, we celebrate the Resurrection, we remember the Paschal mystery.

But we must now move from the sorrow and the loneliness, from the thoughts and memory of death to the celebration of life, W’s life and our own lives, we have before us the epitome of a promise kept: Extreme suffering, agony, the death and Resurrection of a Divine Savior. The ultimate promise of Hope and Joy!

We can and should ask that W., from his new place, a place where every tear is wiped away, may guide and support S., B2, M., K., J., all his family and friends. We pray today that God, in his infinite mercy, will give W. peace and rest; and that God will give us all courage, hope and eventually peace in the days, months and years to come. Hope is the antidote to grief, depression, even guilt. While we cannot know the interior struggles others face and we are not to judge; Instead we are to offer the same mercy and compassion to others that we would hope to receive for ourselves.

Peace and joy be with you all.

irish cross

May he be of memory eternal!

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Posted in Bereavement, Cremation Service, Death, Funeral Service, Grief, Homiletics, Memorial Service, Stigma, Suicide, Traumatic Death | Leave a comment