The following is the funeral homily that Father Hudgins gave at Mrs. Jones’ funeral Mass, September 25, 2008.
Thanks first to Steve and to Carol’s family. It is indeed an honor for me to be able to preside at Carol’s funeral. Thanks also to the Seton Choir. I had a chance to talk to Carol in the weeks before she died about the music that she would like and when I suggested the Seton Choir, she lit up. I’m so happy the Seton Choir could be here to sing because she loved you so much.
I knew Carol for the last five years of her life. She came to me for spiritual direction, so I do believe, then, that I knew her soul. One day she came in for direction, and she was all beaming, all joyful. She said, “I’ve got to share this prayer with you. I just have to share it. I just love it.” She had written down this prayer, and I have kept it with me ever since.
I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life. I love You, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving You than live without loving You. I love You, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally. My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath. [St. John Vianney]
I had the chance to talk to Carol more than anyone lse I’ve ever talked to before death, for months and months. One night while she was at Walter Reed Hospital, she gave me a call. She sounded upset, and she told me, “I want to talk.” So I drove to Walter Reed – the diagnosis had been for the worst. It was now clear that the chemo treatment was not going to work, that the cancer was very aggressive, and that the end would come soon.
I talked that night to Carol about many things. I asked, “You never know when that hour of death is going to come. If it came before you were prepared to say goodbye, is there anything you would want me to say to everyone at your funeral?” She said, “Yes, three things.” Before I tell you those three things, I would like to say that every time we gather at a funeral there are three things we need to say. The first are words of comfort and consolation to those who are left behind. They’re the ones who are bearing the cross now. The second thing we need to do is to remind ourselves of the shortness of life. Every time we gather for a funeral we are reminded that this life is very brief. None of us knows when the end will come, and we must be ready. We’ve got to live our lives with our faith right here, and be prepared to stand face to face with Jesus. The third is that we need to pray for those who have died. As St. Ambrose said so long ago, “Those whom we have loved in this life we must not abandon in death, until by the help of our prayers, we have led them safely into the kingdom of heaven.”
It turns out that those are the same three points that Carol wanted me to talk about. She had three messages for her three “families”: her family at home, her family at Seton and her larger family, the Church.
First, for her family at home, for Steve, Jeff, Lauren, Elena, Melanie and her Mom, this is what she said. “I want you to take all the love you had for me, and I want you to give that now to your children. Make them strong. Teach them their faith. Make them grow up strong in their faith, just like I tried to do with you.” That’s what she said.
She knew that the greatest consolation we have is in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the One who died and rose. He is the One who showed us that death is not the end. He showed us that death does not have the last word; that everything given to Him can never be lost; that nothing given to Him can ever be destroyed. Just as He told us Himself, “If you live in Me and My words live in you, you will bear much fruit. You will bear fruit that will last.” “Anyone who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. The one who believes in Me will never die.”
I remember one other night I went to see Carol at Walter Reed, and I asked her, “Carol, are you afraid to die?” And she smiled at me immediately, you know, with that smile that she had and with that gaze that she had; she looked me right in the eye and said, “Oh no, I’m not afraid! How could I be afraid to go to Jesus?” She said, “I don’t trust in my own good works. I don’t trust in my own merits, because I don’t have any. Every good thing I’ve ever done has been God’s work through me. And I know that all of my sins can be wiped away by one drop of His blood.” That’s a consolation to all of us. The consolation of knowing that Jesus Himself is our ransom from death and that Carol placed herself completely in His care.
The second thing Carol wanted to say was to her Seton family. She made me promise I would say this. She said, “If I’ve ever done anything to hurt any of you, please, I beg you for your forgiveness.” She knew that she had faults, and she wanted very much to ask forgiveness for anyone she had hurt.
I don’t think a lot of Carol’s students ever knew just how much she loved them. She would think about them, pray for them and do everything in her power to help them. She would bring their troubles home with her, and she would think about what she could do to help. Many times she asked me what was the best way to help one of her students. Despite her best efforts, she still knew that she had offended people, and she wanted to ask them for their forgiveness.
You know, one of the very best things to keep in mind as we go through this life is that we must live forgiving and being forgiven by others. Jesus said, “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” “Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be theirs.” And, “The measure you measure out to others will in turn be measured back to you.”
We live our lives knowing our faults and knowing that we must seek forgiveness from others. Forgiving and asking to be forgiven, this is perhaps the very best way to prepare ourselves for our own death and judgment. Carol knew that she was not perfect, but for her students and co-workers, she wanted to ask for your forgiveness; wanted you to know that she loved you all very much.
The third thing she wanted to say was to her greater family of the whole Church. Carol is the last person who would want me to stand up here on the day of her funeral and canonize her. Here is what she wanted me to say to you: “Tell those people to pray for me! You tell them I want their prayers! Tell those people to pray for me!” Because we know that all of us will one day stand before God, and we know that if there are any sins that stand between us and His kingdom, our prayers for the deceased will help them and make them worthy to see God face to face.
Carol was always thinking about eternity. I remember one time she had Steve driving half way across Northern Virginia looking for my mom’s house, trying to return some tapes that my mom had lent her. Mom came out of the house and saw her and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m going to pray for your condition.” Carol, without missing a beat, said, “Oh, the heck with my condition. God will give me a new body! Pray for my soul – I‘ve only got one of those!” She had such a quick mind. She always knew exactly what to say. She was so sure of the need to pray for one another, even after this life.
Carol has many friends in high places, I am sure. That’s for certain now, but I believe it was true even in the last days of her life. Just last Saturday, I got a call from Steve at about 10:15 p.m. Carol had taken a turn for the worse. Her breathing was very erratic, and it appeared that this might be the end. So I drove to the Hospice in Arlington, arriving around midnight The entire family was there. We celebrated Mass together. I gave Carol the Apostolic Pardon and gave her the Anointing of the Sick. I want to tell you, for your consolation, that in ten years of being a priest, I’ve never seen a holier death.
At the moment of consecration, I held up that Host for a long time. I wanted Carol to see Jesus and to know that He had come to be with her in her last hour I held up the chalice of His Blood. And although Carol was not able to receive the Host because of her weak condition, I was able to place just one drop of the Blood of Christ that I had taken from the chalice and place it on her tongue. She got that “one drop” of Christ’s Blood that had been her trust and her hope. Carol died within the hour. Carol died with the grace of the sacraments and with all her sins forgiven by the Blood of her Savior.
And now we gather one last time to pray for her; to offer the Sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Pray now with me that even today Carol may see Jesus in the face, and hear Him say to her those most beautiful, and most powerful words that any Christian can ever hope to hear: “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter now into the joy of your Father’s kingdom.”