Homily for Laci and Conner Peterson Funeral

August 30, 2003 

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Our blessed Lord assures us. We do hope that these rites of Christian burial will be a comfort to Laci's parents, her family, and her friends.

Four months ago Modesto held a public memorial service for Laci and Conner at First Baptist Church downtown. That service gave the city and the world a chance to grieve for their lost daughter. This morning we do something quite different: the Rites of Christian Burial, in the context of a funeral Mass, for the family, that we may give them back to God. Their bodies are with us in the church this time, precious temples of the Holy Spirit, so senselessly abused, but of infinite value. We place them before the altar of Christ, upon which the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary will be re-presented. The same body of Christ that hung upon the cross and gloriously triumphed over death will sanctify Laci and her son at this Mass. It is Christ's body and blood we now offer to the Father for the eternal repose of her soul.

It goes without saying how much all of us have grieved with you, dear Sharon and the rest of the family and friends. St. Joseph's church, of which I am the pastor, is just one community among thousands that have prayed for her and for you these past 8 months. I often ride my bike along the Dry Creek trail and would say a prayer for Laci last Winter as I passed the shrine and banner set up at East La Loma Park. Those prayers have not gone unanswered, because we have Laci with us again. Not as we would have wanted, but in fact we are all here, and she is with us again, and God will take care of her.

We have wept quietly with you, Sharon, for Laci represents every daughter whose mother has had to bury her. Laci reminds us that great evil can come at any time to the most beautiful of God's children. In Laci's death, we come face to face with our own death-her suffering is our suffering. She, like many before her, even in this small city of Modesto, stands for our own aspirations and our own tragedies. Others have gone before her, and I see some of their parents with us today. Others will suffer after her. Thanking God for her life, we thank Him for our lives. Accepting her death, we accept our own.

In 2 weeks we mark the 2nd anniversary of the worst single massacre in American history. Four days after 9-11, the leaders of America gathered in the National Cathedral in Washington to pray for strength, consolation, and understanding. America chose this Gospel, Matthew 5, as her Scripture that afternoon. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted." God will indeed comfort us, both through prayer and through friends, but mourn we must, for we live in a disordered world. We weep to see what we see in front of us this morning. There is a time for weeping, and there is a time to put away our weeping, for God will comfort us in the end. We mourn with Mary and St. John at the foot of the Cross; we mourn for Laci now, so that, like Mary and John, we may rejoice to see her again in another place. But mourn we must now, for we are in the presence of senseless death.

If any death was senseless, Laci's was. Why did she and Conner die? What insanity drove the killer to destroy such beauty and such life? A young mother and her son. For this, there is no direct answer. I don't offer one, and neither do the Gospels. At his friend Lazarus' grave, Jesus did not explain death. He merely wept.

But while there is no rationale, no direct answer to death, there is a meaning: a meaning beyond human logic. In God's grace, earthly suffering is an inoculation against eternal suffering. God almighty, having taken human flesh, himself accepted earthly death, in order to destroy eternal death. In suffering his passion, Christ redeemed all of human suffering. We will stiff suffer, and we will still die, as God himself suffered and died, but with Christ that suffering is now redemptive and that death, accepted with Christ, is now eternal life. Everything is changed since Christ gave his life for us. He won for us, for Laci, a victory over her death. No one can undo her death, but we can allow Christ to redeem it by puttering her death before his death on this altar, by pinning her eternity with his eternity in the Eucharist.

Thus Laci, and every one of us, can share in Christ's redemptive suffering. All of us join with Christ in redeeming humanity. By offering this suffering to God, we join the savior in redeeming humanity-even to redeeming our enemies. Laci overcomes hatred and death and despair in her very death, buy the grace of Christ's cross. This is her enduring legacy, long after the news reports fade, after the numbness and confusion of her close relatives, even beyond the trial to determine guilt or innocence. By joining her death to Christ's, Laci becomes a sacrament of life.

How close her death is to Christ's is strikingly evident in the very chronology of this tragedy. Lost on Christmas Eve, Laci became a carefully-wrapped gift to be opened later; she and Conner portrayed the Mother and Child at the heart of the Christian mystery. Found on Good Friday, the day of Christ's death, her death is joined to that of her Savior. This remarkable timeframe-from Christmas to Easter-is certainly God's sign that the deaths of this mother and son were not meaningless, that Laci and Conner are with God. She was born with him in baptism, she suffered death with him, and she is raised with him in Christ. In him we are reborn, in him we live, and in him we hope to die, so that we may be raised with him. I ask all of you now to trust Jesus Christ; he went through this before Laci-he prepared the way for her, and he will take care of her.

Not only I ask this of you, but another asks you to trust God at this moment. If God would send someone back from the next world to clue us in, I suspect Laci would be one of the first to volunteer. It's just like her-always the eager beaver. Having passed through death and seen God's providence, she would say that we should not waste our time trying to undo the past, and certainly not in resentment and anger, but we should keep our eyes fixed on the joy to come.

She would say that our call is not to despair and sadness but to hope. "For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen." The words of 2 Cor 4, which her mother chose as our first Scripture this morning, would be Laci's word to us. Her mother shared a line from Shakespeare: "Do not let your grief be measured by her worth, for then your sorrow has no end....."

Laci would say to us that death is not the last word, but that Christ is the last word, the Eternal Word. That the veil that separates heaven from earth is paper thin, and we can just about step through it. She would say that those people who have died violent and senseless deaths have not been wasted, for God wastes no human life. His Son's death is a cure for our death, for He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The word "angel" in Greek means messenger, messenger of God. We are all only human beings, not angels, but in a sense any one of us can be messengers of God, accomplishing his work. In that sense, as Laci lies before us, she speaks God's word from the other side of the grave. "Do not fear death; fear only separation from God. I am with God-I am in his hands now." Let us be good enough to listen carefully to this angel from the other side.

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