Caponi – The Dead will hear the voice of the Son of God

Caponi for Homilies.jpg

Funeral of Ellen Capone
Church of Saint Denis
Havertown, Pennsylvania
September 30, 2008

Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.

Wisdom 3: 1-6, 9
Romans 6: 3-4, 8-9
John 5: 24-29

“The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

Over these last weeks, several things have become clear.

First, we have a great family. From the time when Aunt Ellen was diagnosed to the moment of her last breath, she was surrounded and comforted by her family. She never lacked company, she never went a day without laughter, she never faced a new stage in her sickness alone. Both her relatives, and the people lucky enough to be her friends, made sure that her final days were filled with care, humor, and prayers.

Second, we have lost one of the people who made our family great. For her nieces and nephews, Aunt Ellen was always a part of our lives. She was one of those faces smiling down on us from our first days in this world, one of those voices we heard before we could walk, one of those people we naturally turned to. Speaking for my own siblings, I can say that most of us went through periods where it was deemed wise for us to lay low at Grandmom’s for a few days or weeks, until things at home cooled off.

And Aunt Ellen was there, no children of her own yet constantly surrounded by children, no responsibility to look after us yet always willing to do so, with a dozen more quiet, more restful ways to spend her time yet spending it with us. Who among us did not benefit from her care, her friendship, her loyalty?

And the third thing that has become clear over these last weeks is how many of us sound alike. Our family resemblance is not just visible: It is audible. When I called Uncle Mike’s house, the exact same voice sometimes claimed to be Aunt Diane, and sometimes claimed to be Ellen Mary. At the hospital, I heard more than once how my brothers and sister and I laugh like my father and sound like each other. Part of it is what we say, but part of it is how we sound. And at the luncheon later on today, we will hear it again, hear our voices in one another, marvel at how the young ones who look like us are also starting to sound like us.

If this world is a school in which we learn to act more like Christ and sound more like Christ, then Aunt Ellen was a very advanced student. In this life, she sounded like Christ when she offered words of comfort and support sitting next to hospital beds and standing next to graves. In this life she sounded like Christ when she cared for her parents, laughed with her cousins, counseled her students, and kept her brothers in line. In this life she sounded like Christ when she raised her voice in song, and others found beauty and inspiration in her gift. And if we are fortunate enough to sound like Christ, we have Aunt Ellen to thank for some of that resemblance.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Aunt Ellen has heard the voice of Jesus Christ, and she lives. Her voice will continue to echo in our family, as we tell stories about her, repeat things she said, and unconsciously imitate her. But this day, she sings for a different audience. Perhaps she sings with the Church in Purgatory, raising hymns of repentance and drawing closer by the moment to the heavenly choir. Purgatory is a school, a finishing school, and after years of teaching in the city, Aunt Ellen knew a thing or two about schools. She knew how much training and practice it takes to sing well, to overcome bad habits, to master technique, to sing with style.

Perhaps she stands with Church in heaven, joining the hymn of angels and saints and singing with the Trinity, adding her harmony to the melody of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Wherever she is, Christ is by her side, and it is his voice that fills her ears, and his song that rings in her heart.

Our hope rests on one thing alone: 2,000 years ago, a tomb burst open and Jesus Christ came forth, the conqueror of sin, the victor over death – and he has promised to share his victory with us. He has called us to follow him, summoned us to repentance, commanded us to take up our cross, raise our voices in prayer, and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, “[W]hoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. “

Aunt Ellen heard his voice. Aunt Ellen believed in Christ and in the One who sent him. Baptized into his death, she hoped to share in his resurrection. And so we raise our voices in hope, hope that we, too, will hear Christ when he calls, follow where he leads, and one day be united with that great family of men and women who all sound alike, who all sound like Christ, and who this day, we pray, have added to their ranks the powerful voice of Ellen Capone.