Bernadette Blake Hill funeral (16 Feb 2010)
Prov 31. 10-31; Ps 23; Rv 21. 1-5a, 6b-7; Mt 5. 1-12a
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to, Jane, Jake, John and Joe, at the passing of your sister; and to Bob at the passing of your dear spouse. I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Miriam, Libby, Bob, David and Katherine. Not having your sister, husband and mother in your lives is very hard. Yet, all of us are here for you: to help you and each other to be more courageous than grief is sharp. Your confidence in our risen Messiah will help you grieve well. You will help each other experience Bob’s presence in real and new ways.
I also extend our prayers and sympathy to Anna, Eamon, Blake, William, Luke and Lilah, Bunny’s grandchildren. It is hard for you, too, to let go of your grandma. Your parents will help you to do that, hard as it is. Let them know when you need help to let go of grandma.
I offer a few words to console and strengthen you in your grief; to help you appreciate God’s astounding compassion by noticing Jesus’ victorious dying and rising were present in Bunny Hill.1
I’m grateful to Miriam and to David for your words of remembrance. Your words help us connect Bunny with the mystery of Jesus’ dying and rising we celebrate. I want to reflect briefly with you on the scriptures her family chose for Bunny’s funeral mass.
Bob, you made it a point to choose the image of bride in both the Old Testament and New Testament readings. While you know best your reasons, I am grateful you desired that image for reasons obvious and less obvious. The obvious reason includes Bunny’s effort to put everything into family with and for you. Libby, you recalled that your mom learned that from her mom. I add, too, that she learned from her experience as the older sister and reflecting on her experience. Her sisters, Jane and Betty, surely enhanced Bunny’s sense of caring and shaped her.
As her husband and children you received her love. You also received Bunny’s sense of compassion, which shaped and deepened yours. This is the virtue that goes beyond home and family while it forgets neither of them. This is the virtue the Book of Proverbs reminded us: your unfailing prize, Bob; your loving mother and sister, always reache[d] out her hands to the poor and extende[d] her arms to the needy. The Rite of Marriage recalls this when it blesses a bride: May she always follow the example of the holy women whose praises are sung in the scriptures.2 Our vocations empower us to make past examples present.
Bunny fulfilled her vocation well, a vocation summarized by the gospel selection you chose. Faithful and practiced love embodies Jesus’ blessings. They are hard blessings because each beatitude challenges us to embrace what our limited, human understanding alone cannot. By each beatitude Jesus announced the conditions for entering the kingdom he proclaimed. In the beatitudes members of the community of Matthew recognized themselves, as did Bunny. Being included in the kingdom was less for early disciples and is less for contemporary disciples than for the sake of the world: that all people may enter and enjoy a relationship with Messiah Jesus as we live and breathe. Less for us and more for others also makes these hard blessings. Yet Bunny intuited that. She is a good example for us and all who will learn about her through you, her family and friends.
Living our Christian vocations as fully as we can brings to life the second image of bride, Jesus united with his church. The church allows us and all people to have a felt knowledge that God’s dwelling is with the human race. This is why the church advocates for all people, something that Bunny did, almost as second nature. Bunny personalized her advocacy by her desire to learn, by finding “a connection with everybody,” by keeping in touch with people and bringing them together. I saw her do that at the Spiritual Development Commission meetings and talked with her about things she learned at and desired for the Social Concerns Commission. You saw her advocate longer and in many other ways than me. Advocacy is not a buzz word the church as adopted from society. Advocacy as Bunny knew and practiced it is of a piece with following Jesus, who is at our sides pleading our cause.3
Fr. Snow, Br. Denis, Meg Wilson and I made it our mission to be at Bunny’s side in these months of more incapacitating and silent illness. We enjoyed the assistance of others and the prayers of many more in fulfilling our Christian advocacy for Bunny, as we do for all who suffer infirmity and disease. I recalled for Bunny Jesus’ desire for her with a prayer to close several of my visits and our celebrations of the Sacrament of the Sick.
May all who suffer pain, illness, or disease realize they have been chosen to be saints and know...they are joined to Christ by his suffering for the salvation of the world.4
There again is that hard blessing: Less for us and more for others. Human suffering joined to Jesus is for the sake of the world.
While the church sadly bids farewell to one of hers, and you struggle to let go and return Bunny to our Creator and Redeemer, I pray her new and greater mission will console you often. Today in the communion of saints you have another advocate to intercede for you so that you and I may come to see more clearly our vocation: to live in ways so that others will be more keenly aware and will experience that God in Jesus by their Spirit does make all things [and all people] new!
- Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, #27.
- Rite of Marriage, Nuptial Blessing, #33.
- See 1John 2.1: we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.
- Pastoral Care of the Sick, #60.