The Funeral Mass of Sr. Mary Augustine Funk at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Job 19: 1,23-27; Rev 14: 13; Luke 23: 33,39-43]
St. Benedict advises us to keep death ever before our eyes. This is not easy to do when everyone is in good health and everyone is busy. But when one of us dies this “instrument” comes alive and the whole community goes through some very grace-filled days.
As for Sr. Augustine’s last illness, Sunday, until her burial today, your community has helped her on her final journey and in the process experienced a new dimension of your own vocation. I must admit I was going to begin this homily by offering you the sympathy of all your brothers at your loss — but it doesn’t seem right. I know you will miss her, but the overriding experience of death in a Cistercian community is not one of grief. It is rather one of deep solemn joy. Sr. Augustine is the first fruits of your community. The first one to complete her monastic journey. The first one you were able to accompany — participate in and help in her last agony– and in some mysterious way I believe she is sharing her joy with you, some of her heavenly experience is here with us.
She no longer lives in faith. She no longer lives in hope. She now lives only in love. Her love crosses over with her and is finally being expressed face to face. Part of your heart is with her. Some of your desire and your love is with her and shares in her fulfillment, her completion, her experience of Jesus bringing her to himself.
I will not try to sum up her life. You know her a lot better than I do. She came from Wrentham with the foundresses thirty-six years ago, almost to the day. I think it was very thoughtful of Mother Agnes and the Wrentham community to send Sr. Robert to represent them and bring their presence to this celebration. Every community has some firsts — the first novice, the first profession, the first perseverance and fulfillment in death. Sr. Augustine had fourteen years of formation at Wrentham, so that community shares in the grace of her life and death also.
My familiarity with Sr. Augustine comes mainly through numerous visitations and, I must admit, a good number of parties, too. I remember her as someone who was appreciative of anything done for her, even the smallest kindness. She was accommodating to what the community was up to — even if it was not her agenda. But she was no pushover! She had her values and her wisdom. She knew where to draw the line and would not compromise just to be popular.
It is not always easy to stay interested in community affairs as you grow old. But the community kept her interested. I read the other day that “one who loves without being loved in return loses interest in life.” She loved you and you loved her in return.
I like to think of today’s Gospel, which I understand had special meaning to her, as her final gift to the community — the words of the Good Thief. Scripture scenes are not given us just to think about; they are invitations to enter, to take our place within the event. We can take our place with the woman at the well and enter the dialog with Jesus. We can profess our faith with Peter. We can cry out with the blind man of Jericho, “Lord, that I may see.” We can–and should, says St. Benedict–pray with the publican, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” and we do pray everyday with the Centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you; say but the word and I shall be healed.” We can say with the disciples, “Lord, it is good for us to be here,” “Lord, give us this bread always,” “Lord, to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life.” And the one we could easily forget because the Passion is only proclaimed once a year in the liturgy–the one we can thank Sr. Augustine for bringing to our attention: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Take it as a personal gift from Sr. Augustine, a little memento from her, a prayer you can say often. Of all the short little prayers coming out of human need there is probably none more desperate than this one coming from the thief on the cross. And there is probably no more beautiful answer than the one he received, the one Sr. Augustine received, the one we all hope to receive: “This day you will be with me in paradise.”