On Saturday, October 29, 2011, Gloria Costanzo, one of our parishioners, went home to the Father. At 85, Gloria had enjoyed a long, full life and had remained active in parish ministries to the very end. A woman filled with both love and humility, Gloria would be embarrassed if were to list even a few of the ways she brought God's love into the world...so I won't. It's enough to say that she was a blessing to all who knew her.
I was asked to preach at her funeral this morning, November 2nd, a day on which we also commemorate the faithful departed, commonly called All Souls Day.
My homily follows...
Readings: Wis 3:1-9; Ps 27; Rev 14:13; John 5:24-29
Let me first, on behalf of our pastor, Father Peter, my brother deacons, and the entire parish community of St. Vincent de Paul, extend our sincerest condolences and our love to Gloria’s family and friends gathered here today.
Gloria was our friend, but more than that, she was a fellow pilgrim helping us on our journey…and we loved her dearly. We will all miss her joyful, loving presence.
A few years ago, in a conversation with a Jewish friend of mine, we were both lamenting the growing rejection of Judeo-Christian values in the world and the fact that so many people had embraced what Pope John Paul II called a "culture of death." I recall tossing out a rhetorical question, something like, “How can so many people turn their backs on life?”
My friend just replied, “Because for them, this is all there is. For them there’s nothing more. For them life is an accident without purpose, and so they have no interest in anything but their own selfish needs. Sad isn’t it?”
Sad indeed; and if you think about it, a belief in nothing after death often leads a person to the very depths of despair.
How blessed we are – we faithful Christians – full of faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ, Our Savior, and full of hope in His promise of eternal life.
St. Paul promised us that “Hope does not disappoint …because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” [Rom 5:5]. And because we believe this, today we can celebrate Gloria’s funeral Mass; and how fitting that we should do so on All Souls Day, this day on which we commemorate all the faithful departed.
For today, as we think of and pray for Gloria, who lived a good, long and fruitful life, we pray also for all who have died before us. And in doing so we confront our own mortality, reminded that we too will die. But, again, this realization is tempered by hope, for God puts in each of our hearts a desire for unending life and happiness with him.
Listen again to the words of Jesus in the Gospel passage you just heard: “…whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life” [Jn 5:24] And Jesus went on to say, “…the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” [Jn 5:25]
Death, then, is nothing to fear; for Jesus has promised to raise us up at the last judgment to live with him forever. As the psalmist sung...“To dwell in the house of the Lord all my days…” [Ps 27:4]
Do you see how explicitly God speaks to us? He does so through His Word made flesh, through Jesus Christ, who shared our human condition, even enduring suffering and accepting death. And we know death was not the last word in His story, was it? For He is risen and He lives, and promises the same victory over death to all who will become a part of Him through Baptism.
What a joy this is for those of us who knew Gloria
…and studied Scripture with her
…and joined her as she brought the love of Jesus Christ to God’s special children
…and listened to her proclaim God’s Word from this very ambo
…and who laughed with her and smiled with her and shared the joy of her faith with her.
For all of us here today, our grief is tempered and accompanied by a wonderful consolation – a consolation that comes from the sure knowledge grounded in our faith – that God has prepared a place for Gloria, a place for those who have gone before us, a place for you and me.
As Christians we know that death can’t be ignored, for it’s only through death that we can come to truly appreciate life. Our idea of death helps us order life’s priorities and determine the values we hold dear. Indeed, it puts much of life into perspective.
It’s also an opportunity to come together, a time when family and loved ones, friends and neighbors can support each other in a time of real need. What could we substitute for this invitation to exercise such wonderful virtues as unity, love, mercy, kindness and sympathy – virtues evidenced by your very presence here today? It’s in times like this, times of grief and distress, that we can demonstrate the compassion, understanding, and love of Jesus, that we can show how truly precious we are to each other.
St. Paul said it best: “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence.” [2 Cor 4:14]
You see, death is another of God’s great gifts to us. It’s not meant to discourage or frighten us, but to fill us with hope, to remind us of what awaits. For God, in His wisdom, knows exactly what He is about. We need only turn to Him.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life” [Jn 14:6], Jesus told us. “He who believes in me shall have eternal life” [Jn 5:24].
The way, the truth, and the life…
What is the way? Nothing other than our Christian faith and the struggle to put that faith into practice by loving God and our neighbor. Yes, Jesus will lead us to eternal life, but to be led by Jesus, you and I must follow Him. You and I must do our part. We can’t do it alone, and so in life’s struggles and at times of sorrow, we turn to God for help and trust in His mercy.
The truth? Why, it’s the Good News of Jesus Christ! It’s the truth of His promise, borne out and proven by His resurrection.
And the life? Oh, the life is eternal life, the fruit of Jesus’ promise. It’s the understanding that we’re here for a purpose: to do God’s will so that we may spend an eternal life of happiness with Him.
And so, as you face the loss of this dear woman, whom you and so many others loved, turn always to Jesus to fill the void, answer the questions, and find hope and peace.
In a few moments Father will invite us to lift up our hearts in praise and thanksgiving to God. How good that we will do so here today. Even though your hearts are filled with sorrow, lift them up, give thanks to God for Gloria, for her life, for all she did for you – the big things and the little things.
Give thanks for this one woman’s life, a unique and unrepeatable life, one which you were privileged not only to witness but to share. Yet, above all else, let us give thanks to God for the gift of eternal life He offers us through His Son, Jesus Christ. And with that promise before us, let’s recall the comforting words of Jesus, words He spoke to His disciples just hours before His death: “Do not let your hearty be troubled – have faith in God – have faith in me.” [Jn 14:1]
And so today we won’t let our hearts be troubled. Instead we will ask our Lord Jesus to take Gloria into His loving embrace, to wipe away the tears, and give her the first taste of that eternal joy we all hope to share.
God love you all.