" ...into the hand of God." A Funeral Homily

The Dormition of the Virgin (detail), Giotto,  c. 1310.

November is when we pray especially for the faithful departed. This funeral homily by Father Daren Zehnle (posted with permission) was delivered in September, 2008. Fr. Zehnle recounts the departed's life in Christ; reminding us that our earthly existence is merely a prelude to our ultimate calling — seeing God face to face in the Beatific Vision.

Fr. Daren J. Zehnle, K.H.S. is a priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois studying canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University. His blog is Servant and Steward.

Dear brothers and sisters,

May the Lord give you peace.

It is with sorrow that we assemble this morning here in this church dedicated to the Annunciation to entrust N. into the “hand of God” (Wisdom 3:1). Yet, as we do so, we find comfort because it is the Lord’s hand into which we commend her.

The Lord first stretched out his hand to her in the waters of baptism so many years ago. As the waters washed her clean of the stain of sin, the Lord Jesus welcomed her as a member of his Body and opened the gates of his Church to her. Looking back on her life, we know that the hand of the Lord did not abandon N., but remained constantly with her.

The Lord stretched out his hand to her in the sacrament of Penance time and again, when he lifted her up from the misery of sin.

The Lord stretched out his hand to her in Holy Communion as he continually offered himself to her, both as a foretaste of heavenly glory and to strengthen her to follow him more faithfully.

The Lord stretched out his hand to her in the Anointing of the Sick as he strengthened and supported her with his grace in her final days so that her hope would be “full of immortality” (Wisdom 3:4).

And even now the Lord stretches out his hand to her, to escort her into that “dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven” (II Corinthians 5:1).

Indeed, the Lord stretches out his hand to each of us every day of our lives, but he never forces us to take his hand. He offers it to us, and with his hand comes his grace, his power and his love. This requires our cooperation with the Lord’s grace, it requires that we stretch out our hand to his.

To take the Lord’s hand can be risky, daunting, and even frightening, for he leads us into the unknown and tells us to follow him in trust. While the extended hand of the Lord can be intimidating because of the promise it offers, we know that “those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love” (Wisdom 3:9) because, as he says, “where I am, there also will my servant be” (John 12:26).

When N. accepted N.’s hand in marriage she knew not what the future would hold, yet she trusted; she trusted both her husband and her Lord.

We know that even in her marriage – and perhaps especially in her marriage – the hand of the Lord was with her, blessing her marriage with nine children. Her family offered her the opportunity to follow Christ each day of her life by imitating that grain of wheat that dies to itself to produce much fruit (cf. John 12:24).

In raising her family she put herself aside and focused on those she loved, thereby losing her life. She heard well the words of Jesus, “Whoever loves his life will lose it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (John 12:25).

These last few weeks have not been easy, but you surrounded N. with your presence and your love. Your devotion to her is a testament to a life well-lived and to the love you have for her, a love that surely will not weaken with her death.

Saint Ambrose once said, “We have loved him in life. Let us not forget him in death.” The same might well be said of N. How then will you continue to love her and remember her?

The best way to remember her is to live as she did, dying to yourself so that others might live and flourish, following always the example of Jesus Christ. In this way you will come to find your life, the life unending, the life of joy and peace.

We know, as Saint Paul reminds us, that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (II Corinthians 5:10).

If we take the hand of Christ each day and follow where he leads, not counting the cost, then we “shall abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are with his holy ones” (Wisdom 3:9) and, as he says, “The Father will honor whoever serves me” (John 12:26).

Let us then commend N. into the hand of God. May the Lord honor his servant and welcome her into the mansions of his glory, that, having taken his hand, she might see her Savior face to face. Amen.