1st Reading (Sirach 2:1-11)
My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient; for in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him. You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy, turn not away lest you fall. You who fear the LORD, trust him, and your reward will not be lost. You who fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the LORD and been disappointed? Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken? Has anyone called upon him and been rebuffed? Compassionate and merciful is the LORD; he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble.
2nd Reading (Romans 8:31-35, 37-39)
What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ (Jesus) who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Gospel (Luke 10:38-42)
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
My name is Fr. Joe Feltz; I am the pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg and I have been ministering with Sister Mary Cecile for almost five years. I first offer my condolences to the sisters of Our Lady of Grace Monastery and also to Sister Mary Cecile’s family. I also acknowledge many of my parishioners who have traveled from Lawrenceburg to be here at this Mass of the Resurrection.
I have other connections to this monastery including Sister Harriet and Sister Eugenia. But the most formative connection I have is with Sister Marie, my elementary school principal at St. Barnabas. Sister Marie spoke with me this past Monday about her good friend Mary Cecile. She said that she understood that I was going to preach her funeral homily. And after I acknowledged it she said, “Well say something funny about her; I don’t want it to be serious.” Being a good Catholic boy I responded, “Yes, sister.”
I want to reflect on Sister by sharing her mission ministry at St. Lawrence. I first met her at a luncheon the staff had for me soon before I began my term as pastor. She commented to me at that time, “We are thrilled to have you coming to St. Lawrence; we did not expect to get one of the young ones!”
A few weeks later Sister and I sat down to talk about her ministry and she said, “Now Father, if you don’t want me around, that’s all right I will head back to the monastery!” My first and best decision as pastor was saying that I DID want her to stay.
The first description I have of Sister Mary Cecile is a teacher. She has taught English and Music in the past, but her passion was to teach our Catholic faith. She enjoyed teaching pre-school kids in Vacation Bible School, although it was the only group that physically wore her out! She enjoyed teaching teenagers and adults. In her mind and heart our faith was a priceless treasure that everyone should know and embrace. She loved seeing the positive response from adults in the RCIA class as the faith was presented to them. Some of our most faith-filled parishioners came from that program.
On occasion she needed some help and guidance. For example she came to me frustrated because the second graders were not coming up with any sins they committed so they could confess for First Reconciliation. I told her to have the kids name the sins their brothers and sisters committed. She came to me the next day beaming and said, “Father, your advice worked. I finally had to stop them because they were coming up with too many sins!”
In an effort to communicate better with the youth in the Confirmation class, Sister had a teenager come into the office and set up an email address book with all of their email addresses. She thought this would be the most reliable method to contact them. But she was dealt a blow when she approached a girl who missed class and Sister asked her if she got her email; she responded that she does not check her email, she only “texts”.
Another way I would describe Sister Mary Cecile is as a witness of our Christian faith. She was well known in our community. She received the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce “Woman of Distinction” award as well as the Beta Sigma Phi’s “First Lady of the Year” recognition.
Some of the first calls I got on Monday morning were from the Lutheran and Presbyterian pastors who are members of the Dearborn County Ministerial Association along with Sister and me. I was interviewed by the local paper and the Baptist chaplain at the hospital sent out an email to all the Christian churches in the community telling of the great loss.
People witnessed Sister Mary Cecile visiting women in prison, taking communion to people in the hospital and even paying her utility bill. She always paid it in person at the utility office because it saved a postage stamp.
She always enjoyed visiting the Catholic patients in the hospital every Thursday. Frequently she would return to the office with the name of a patient who wanted to see a priest. She was always excited with the prospect that her visit may result in a fallen away Catholic return to the Church that she loved. She is now able to see the number of people she influenced in that way.
Now I want to take a moment to talk about my relationship with Sister Mary Cecile. She liked to call herself a “fixture” in the parish, but she was my rock. She was a friend, confidant, but mostly she was my partner in ministry. We had great discussions on the challenges and blessings of ministry. On the rare occasion that she disagreed with a decision I made, I still could count on her unflagging support. I learned many valuable lessons ministering alongside her and I will always counts these five years as a true blessing.
Finally I would be remiss if I did not speak of Sister Mary Cecile’s contribution to our parish festival, the “Hidden Treasure” booth. Several months before the festival parishioners would do their Spring Cleaning and drop off stuff (some referred to it as trash) to Sister’s house. By the time June rolled around, Sister Marie can confirm this statement; you could hardly walk in Sister’s door. To those who would say that it was “Hidden Trash” Sister would respond, “Now remember, my Hidden Treasure booth is all profit everything is donated!” One year she was within five dollars of bettering the previous year’s total and someone gave her a five dollar bill.
I think Sister Mary Cecile’s greatest gift was she could see the Hidden Treasure in each and every person she met. They could be in prison, suffering in an abusive relationship or dealing with a broken marriage. They could be a fallen away Catholic or a recovering alcoholic. In any case she looked at them and recognized the real Hidden Treasure in them, Jesus. More importantly she would journey with them to help them see Jesus in themselves. That is the gift of her ministry and her life.
I have been examining the emotions in my heart this past week. Some of it is sadness because Sister Mary Cecile has left this life. Some of it is joy due to her entering eternal life. But I also feel some apprehension because she has set the bar quite high in regards to living a Christian life. I know none of us can reach that height on our own, but with Christ’s grace and Sister’s intercession it may be possible.
And so we turn to our Heavenly Father and thank Him for giving us such a wonderful teacher, witness, partner, friend and Christian disciple. Please dear Lord keep Sister Mary Cecile in the palm of Your hand.