Homily at Maria's Funeral
HOMILY FOR MARIA CONTEMPREE
St Francis Xavier, Lavender Bay NSW, 8 August 2014
Michael Whelan SM
1 Corinthians 13:1-8
1 Corinthians 2:6-16
Death or its nearness prompts reflection. Especially when it is the death of one we have loved, one we have seen smile and cry, one we have prayed with and whose company we have enjoyed on the journey we call life. The novelist and essayist, Walker Percy, wrote:
It is pilgrims we are, wayfarers on a journey, and not pigs, not angels.
What is it for, this journey? Our faith tells us it is for love, actually.
The English word “love” used in that passage from St Paul today, translates a very specific Greek word – agape (?????). This Greek word is generally used in the Christian Scriptures to describe the love with which God loves us – that utterly unconditional, self-sacrificing love. God is infinite self-giving.
The Christian understanding of what it means to be a human being is implicit in this teaching of St Paul. We are made in the image and likeness of infinite self-giving. We are at our best when this is manifest in our behaviours – when we are patient, kind, not envious or arrogant or rude, when we rejoice in the truth.
In the other Reading from St Paul to the Christians in Corinth, we heard St Paul say that
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.
In August 1968, just before he left on his final journey, Thomas Merton – a friend of Walker Percy’s – sent a letter to his friends. In that letter he wrote:
Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary for us to respond to that action. I pray we may all do so generously.
To recognize the truth of this, we must be adept at listening with the ear of the heart. The invitation of Psalm 46:10 comes to mind:
Be still and know that I am God.
Maria was utterly convinced of this. She not only practised meditation herself but gave much of her time and energy to teaching children – and others – how to be still and know God.
When you spend enough time being still and listening, you do start to see yourself and the world differently. Life and all that is part of life is seen and actually experienced in the context of agape, God’s unconditional love. Jesus’ words in our Gospel today make total sense:
I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air;
I leave you with the words with which St Paul concludes his famous hymn to agape:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
 The Road to Joy: The Letters of Thomas Merton to New and Old Friends, edited by Robert E Daggy, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989, 118. Thomas Merton, a Cistercian monk whose autobiography – The Seven Story Mountain – has been translated into more than twenty languages and has sold over one million copies, was accidentally electrocuted on a faulty electrical fan while attending a conference in Bangkok for Benedictine monks and nuns in December of 1968.