Our Shared Roots — Funeral Homily for Maxine Zwiefelhofer, 90

In her first ninety years of life, Maxine has been a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother; an aunt, a grandma, a great grandma, and a great-great grandma; a talented nurse, a good friend, and a devoted Catholic. Among her many traits and experiences, on this day of her funeral I would like to highlight one hobby of hers which has been a blessing to our community and a point of pride for her family.

Maxine has been a hobbyist in history. She wrote “The History of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church” in Cooks Valley, which detailed more than one hundred years of this parish from 1885 to 1995. Maxine spent many days researching genealogy at the Chippewa County Historical Society, and even traveled with family to Scandinavia and Denmark to explore their ancestral roots. She wrote books of family history, recounting the lineages of the Toppers, the Olsons, the Zwiefelhofers, and the Bleskaceks.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: the U.S. Census Bureau says there are more than 150,000 different last names in our country today, with some 5,000 last names in common use. Have you ever noticed, that with the whole forest of humanity to choose from, most people prefer to research those family trees which have branches which reach themselves? For instance, Topper was the family name of Maxine’s father, Ernest; Olson was the maiden name of her mother, Elizabeth; and Zwiefelhofer was the last name of her husband, David. Here’s another statistic: there are more than 20,000 Catholic churches in America. Of all the churches in all the towns in all the land, why did she write a history about this one?

You know the answer. Maxine explored the genealogies of those particular families and recounted the history of this particular parish because she belonged to them and they belonged to her. Our past provides us with our identity. If we were to lose all of our memories but could still think and walk and talk, we would wonder about who we are. Our family and community, our origins and past, inform us about who we are. As Christians we know our family, community, origins, and past are more than merely natural.

Who was Jesus describing in the gospel we just heard? Who is merciful and meek? Who are peacemakers, clean of heart? Who hungers and thirsts for righteousness and unjustly suffers for what is right? Who do these Beatitudes refer to? The Beatitudes describe the blessed saints, but first and foremost they describe Jesus Christ himself. You and I as Christians you are their siblings, brothers and sisters within the family, the community, the communion, of God’s Church. Our origin is that we were created by God in love. That is your origin. Our past is that Jesus Christ came and died and rose for us. That is your past. And rooted in this true identity, our future is full of hope.

St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans declares “that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death,” and if “we have died with Christ… we shall also live with him.” As foretold through the Prophet Daniel, one day, “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,” some to everlasting disgrace and others to eternal life. Then “the wise shall shine brightly… and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.

Let us pray today for Maxine’s soul and renew our true identity in Jesus Christ, so that she and we with him may be one holy family, one holy Church dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

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