Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Funeral Mass for Jennifer Pelletier

November 15, 2022
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, TX

Revelation 21:1-5a, 6b-7
Psalm 103
Romans 14:7-9, 10c-12
John 11:17-27

We have read the passage from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus speaks to Martha, just before He restores life to her brother Lazarus who has died. In Luke’s Gospel, we read that Jesus restores life to the son of a widow from the village of Naim. In each of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we read that Jesus raised the daughter of the synagogue leader named Jairus.

These are the three incidents related in the Gospels in which Jesus restored life to people who had died. The Evangelists identify these persons by their relationship to someone else. These miracles involved a mother and a father, a son and a daughter, and brothers and sisters. Christ does not bring and restore life just to individuals, but to persons belonging in a family, and even the wider relationships of friends, the people who came to comfort Martha and Mary, the large crowd that accompanied the widow, the people in the house of Jairus.

This is how human life is experienced. This is how human death is experienced. It is not just an isolated individual who dies, but a mother or a father, a son or daughter, a brother or a sister, an aunt or a niece, a teacher or a student, a friend and a colleague, and those who are left behind also suffer the death with the one who died. When Christ brings life out of death, He does so not only for the one who has died, but for those to whom He restores that person. This is how human death is experienced, and this is how Christ Himself and our Christian faith, conquer and transform it. This is what we do now, as we mourn the death of Jennifer Pelletier and pray for her.

Martha hears that Jesus is coming and so she goes out to meet Him because she cannot wait for His arrival. Martha has faith and she has hope. So, when Martha meets Jesus she says to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Which implies, “Lord, if you had been here (but you weren’t), my brother would not have died (but he did), but even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Martha is right.

Jesus has deliberately arrived after Lazarus’ death that He might also redeem the bitter fruit of mourning that comes with the death of a friend. The Father has sent His Son, Jesus, not just to vanquish physical death but rather every bitter social, emotional, and theological aspect of death that has assaulted human beings since the sin in the Garden of Eden. The Church Fathers teach us that that which is not assumed is not redeemed. Jesus, the Son of God, redeems human grief by experiencing it as He weeps bitter tears for His friend Lazarus. Jesus responds to Martha, “Your brother will rise.” Martha, who even in grief likes to be right, responds, “Yes, Lord, I know that he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” As if to say, I was listening to you, I know the answer, you covered it in one of your lectures. It is part of the core curriculum of discipleship.   

Jennifer was right. Jennifer really liked to be right. Jennifer very much embodied in her life as a family member, student, as an educator, as a principal, and as a superintendent, the knowledge of the true, the good, and the beautiful, in everything that she did as a woman of faith and reason. She inculcated in her character key aspects of a Catholic school: a supernatural vision centered on Jesus Christ, a hopeful and Christian anthropology, and communion and community of the school that evangelizes families. She maintained and fostered a vision with the supernatural horizon of eternal life and heaven; she understood and trumpeted that every human life has dignity and is of value — that every human being has a right to an education and is capable of the naturally human activity of learning regardless of economic factors, race, ethnicity, language issues, or the intellectual need for accommodations. She collaborated with her principals and teachers and helped them to care for their students and their students’ families.

We have just listened to the words of Saint Paul written to the Romans, “None of us lives for oneself and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” Paul is right. Martha is right. Jennifer, like Paul and like Martha, was right.

While Martha was right in her profession of faith that Lazarus would rise in the Resurrection on the last day, her faith was abstract, incomplete, and not fully developed. Martha makes her profession of faith in Jesus before the revelation of His Paschal mystery in His Passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension into glory. Today’s Gospel presents a time when Martha has not yet experienced the full knowledge that comes from a share in the Passion and cross of Jesus Christ.

There is knowledge that comes from literature, philosophy, and the applied principles of science and mathematics. There is also knowledge that is acquired through the gift of faith as authentically contained in sound doctrine. Yet, entering with Jesus into the mystery of His Passion, cross, and death is the only way that Martha could come to know the fullness of the truth of His Resurrection. This is true for all of us who are baptized and profess the faith of the Church that we are proud to profess in Christ Jesus, the Lord. This is the central event of all human history and without our entering it with fortitude and faith, our lives become meaningless.

To learn the fullness of this truth that supersedes being right or wrong, correct or incorrect. Jennifer Pelletier entered the Passion and cross of Jesus Christ through the last three years of her life. She experienced its bitterness in the humiliation of being sick, the physical pain and mental exhaustion of both the disease and the medicine, the isolation and temporary alienation from family and friends, and through grace learned the true mystery of eternal life — that creation is redeemed, and that heaven and earth are fused together in the overwhelming love of God.

It is the cross and Resurrection of Christ that has carried Jennifer into the very life of God for which she was created and in which she believed and persevered throughout her too brief life on earth. It is the cross and Resurrection of Christ that redeems creation and conquers the forces of the Devil as we read in the Book of Revelation today, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race, He will dwell with them, and they will be His people and God Himself will always be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

The darkness of human death, the shadow it casts over human life, is the place where God’s love is most clearly shown to us, in the death of Christ, in the death of Lazarus, in the death of Jennifer and in our own death. God’s power and love can conquer even this. God’s power goes to this extreme to redeem us. For without God’s love revealed fully in Christ, death becomes the dominant force in a society that falsely imposes it upon the weak and vulnerable to be the dignified answer to the futility of human autonomy.

The Resurrection of Jesus shows us that death does not silence the final word, but that the Word finally silences death. The Resurrection of Jesus shows us that even in death we belong to each other with a more powerful love. His Resurrection shows what the words He spoke about life truly mean. For the words and actions of Jesus Christ were not just those of an author or of a philosopher; they are the words and deeds of God Himself, God incarnate, speaking to us and acting toward us fully as a human being in His own voice, the Son of God and the Word of God. With Martha we make the same profession of faith that we shared with Jennifer as a Catholic, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

Jennifer Pelletier has entered the Paschal Mystery of death and redemption. Her life here is completed. We should remember to pray for Jennifer, because even though we admire the very many outstanding qualities of Jennifer’s life, there remains an enormous difference between even the best of human beings, and the blinding, incomprehensible, and ineffable goodness of God, and none of us can come into His presence without His mercy and grace. For God loves us unconditionally that to ransom us He gave away His Son.

In a few moments we will approach the altar and banquet table of the Lord, the Eucharistic table at which Jennifer was nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the Eucharist that provides the grace of belonging to Christ and to each other and that feeds the human hunger of alienation and isolation with the Passion of Charity. It is the Eucharist that is the foretaste of heaven that gives us the confident hope that we will be with Christ and through Him with Jennifer, our daughter, our sister, our aunt, our niece, our teacher, our student, and our friend after we have entered more deeply into the mystery of His Cross and Resurrection when we will give an account to Him and He comes to take us home.

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