God’s Love Among Us — Funeral Homily for Cecilia Jenneman, 100

By Fr. Victor Feltes

When Cecilia was born one hundred years ago the First World War had only recently ended. Some had hoped it would be ‘a war to end all wars,’ but this would not be so. There were millions more horrors, murders, and atrocities to follow. Religious demographers find there were more Christians martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. The news reports from the Russian war in Ukraine show us that innocents are still suffering and being murdered in our time. Seeing such grave evils in the present and the past, even the faithful may understandably question, “Where is God?

Last week, a Dominican Catholic priest in Ukraine was asked about this in light of the wicked war crimes revealed in the town of Bucha near Kiev. Fr. Petro Balog replied, “Today we must recall the words of Christ from the 25th chapter of Matthew, where he says that ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ When we talk about Bucha… Christ was killed, Christ was deprived of his home, his hands were tied, and he was shot. All this was done to those with whom Christ identifies himself. …God is being crucified again, tortured again.” Fr. Balog emphasizes that God is not above it all. God is in the midst of the suffering and on the side of those suffering.

During Holy Week we remember how Christ’s love led him to offer his painful and sorrowful Passion to save us. Jesus’ innocent suffering, his death and resurrection, changes Christians’ view of this life, death, and the life to come. Though we naturally mourn the passing of Cecilia, we need “not grieve like [others] who have no hope,” for “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” On the Last Day, his faithful will say, “let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!

Jesus teaches us at the Last Supper and today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled… In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. I am going to prepare a place for you… I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Christ declares to us, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. … Love one another as I love you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” And the lives of his present-day disciples, at our best, help others to believe in Jesus too. A faithful Christian life reflects the faithful love of Christ for his Spouse, the Church, and for each of us individually.

Like Jesus, Cecilia taught many gathered around her. Like Christ, she could “be kind, but be firm.” Some called her, “The best teacher I ever had.” Like our heavenly Father, there were many dwelling places in Cecilia’s house. In addition to family she excellently fed farm hands and friends, and opened her doors to host relatives in need (including her own aged mother, two aunts, and two nephews who had lost their own mother). And after her beloved husband, Bill, became severely debilitated, her faithful love cared for him too through their last two decades together. When asked to imagine living her life over again, she answered, “I would walk the aisle at St. Paul’s with the same man, welcome the birth of each child, grandchild, and greatgrand.” Like God loves each of his children, Cecilia wrote, “I loved each child dearly – perhaps in a different way as each is an individual, but 100% love for each one. …Remember my love for children; my seven, all grandchildren, and the great grands also.

And throughout her life, Cecilia’s Catholic Faith came first. She was known to say, “Without faith in God you have nothing.” She recalled her 1st (“Solemn”) Communion, receiving Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist in 8th grade, as a highlight moment of her life, and pointed to the nuns and priests at St. Paul’s as one of her life’s greatest inspirations. Cecilia wrote in her funeral preparation notes: “I hope I instilled a strong faith in God in my own seven children, grandchildren, and every child I was close to in my life. [I want my family to remember me for] whatever I did to help them to be better Christians.

In St. Augustine’s book The Confessions, the oldest autobiography in Western history, he writes about the death of his mother, St. Monica, whose prayers and lived example were so important for his conversion and salvation. As she was dying, St. Monica told her children “Bury my body wherever you will…. Only one thing I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” Monica was a saint, but she was not presumptuous. She desired the help of her loved ones’ prayers, just like we should pray for Cecilia. But Monica desired something more; not only for her dearest ones to pray for her soul but to draw near to the altar of the Lord Jesus themselves. God, like water, is all around us; but to drink we come to the font of Christ.

Human events are often gravely wrong and death is a heartbreaking scandal. But knowing Jesus Christ and his saints reveals the reality and strength of God’s love. The Easter resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ remains our hope and consolation, for Cecilia, ourselves, and all the world.

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