[From the funeral homily of Frank Pierce – September 4, 2020 – printed with permission of the family. After the homily is a meditation written by Frank.]
‘Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ [Jn 11:18-21].
Martha, a faith-filled follower of Jesus, basically said, ‘Where were you?!’ “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ ‘Why, Lord?’ ‘Why Frank? Why now?’ It is an existential cry that comes from the depths of our hearts, ‘Why?’
Mr. and Mrs. Pierce, Nate, Ellie, Grandma, extended family, Kayla - my deepest condolences for your loss. I cannot say I understand the depth and the intensity of your sorrow – I can say that I sorrow with you. I believe I speak for everyone here in the Church – the Sunman Community, the UC Newman Community, NKU Newman, Regnum Christi Movement members, LaSalle community, and friends - we are here precisely to express or sorrow for the loss of Frank – and to bring both Frank and our sorrow before God.
‘When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled… And Jesus wept’ [Jn 11:33.35]. Jesus weeps with us when we sorrow. And yet, in our sorrow, we may cry, ‘I don’t want tears… I want Frank.’ Then Jesus responds to us as he did to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.’
It is OK to be upset. That is not a lack of faith. It is human. It is OK to ask why, as long as we do not forget whom it is we are asking.
God’s actions often make no sense, unless we remember heaven. It seems insane that he would sacrifice his only begotten Son, just as it seems insane that he would take one of our sons at such a young age… unless we remember heaven. This life, with all its joys and sorrows, would ultimately make no sense, only end in darkness… unless we remember heaven. The Church has constantly reminded us that in this world we are only pilgrims. Heaven is our home.
Nevertheless, there are times when suffering hits us full force – and we stagger from its blow. That is we live our own way of the cross, our own Good Friday. The catch is, we tend to look at Good Friday, whereas God looks through it. We get stuck on the suffering, but through it God is working out our rebirth.
For the Regnum Christi Holy Week Mission, Frank wrote a meditation on Good Friday,
‘On this day, it is important for us to walk with Christ in His time of sorrow, but now that His passion is complete it’s a great time for us to reflect on what actually just happened. Our sins were forgiven, and we are given the opportunity to be with Him forever. Christ opened the gates of heaven and made the whole world new again.’
It all comes back to heaven. Frank understood that.
God in his Providence can work with all things – even the painful ones – to get us to heaven. This is what is meant when St. Paul wrote, ‘We know that all things work for good for those who love God’ [Rm 8:28].
The one thing God will not do is force his gift of love and eternal life upon us. We may reject it. God respects our freedom. However, as long as we live: he will lovingly and persistently offer his grace, his love, his heaven to us.
Hearts in heaven – feet planted firmly on the Earth
Rooting our hearts in heaven does not mean we do not cherish the beautiful things in this life. I would argue that we live it more fully. How so?
Firstly, we appreciate it more. Both the atheist and the Christian will enjoy a sunny day in the park. However, the atheist only has the sunny day. The Christian not only enjoys the sunny day, but also recognizes that it is a gift of love from God. When it rains… and you would have preferred sunshine… the Christian still holds to the love of God. Whereas the atheist only has rain.
We feel that it is raining now – and we would have preferred sunshine, really preferred sunshine – and yet our faith tells us that the love of God is still there and that the rain serves a purpose.
Frank had the joy of knowing God loved him. Again, in his meditation he wrote,
‘Heaven cannot be earned. It is a gift freely given to us out of God’s perfect love for us. All we must do is say yes to that gift.’
Secondly, this rootedness in the love of God makes us want to share it with others, and by doing so make this world a better place. The saints were historically the ones who built hospitals, orphanages, schools, and helped the poor.
Frank’s experience of the love of Jesus gave him a supernatural strength and serenity in addition to his already naturally calm and kind disposition. His countless endeavors to share the faith, including his homeless outreach, starting his young men’s Catholic household, promoting Bible studies, missions, and other projects give testimony to Frank’s love for Jesus translated into the service of others. Like Frank, we too must endeavor to imbue our mad, frightened, and violent world… with the life and love of Jesus Christ.
In these difficult days, God has shown me two lessons I want to share.
Firstly, I am grateful and amazed to see how many lives one good, faith-filled person like Frank can touch. This crowd is testimony to that. We really do not know how many lives we can touch if, like Frank, we simply share the love of Christ with those around us.
Secondly, in my dealings with the family and the young people I know and have come into contact – I have been humbled and awed that in their clear and intense suffering – they still showed concern for each other, and for me. Frank has reflected Christ’s love to me, but so have all of you.
So mourn we must, not so much for Frank who is close to God. We mourn for our loss, but as St. Paul writes, not without hope. If Frank was called to go home now, we are called to remain. Nevertheless, the same love that has called Frank will also sustain us on our journey.
Please let us learn the lesson that Frank taught us with his life: Let Jesus sustain you by turning to him in prayer, Mass and Confession.
To those who are here today for Frank but are perhaps struggling with the faith, I would like to add my voice to Frank’s to invite you to discover the gift and the joy that only Jesus Christ can bring. Try to pray. Ask a faith-filled Catholic to share their experience with you, and walk with you on your journey.
We thank God for the gift that Frank was in our lives, and hopefully, learn just a little more to appreciate all the people God has placed in our lives.
Frank, now you see how much you were loved and appreciated. We are really going to miss you. You are in our prayers. Please pray for us.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.’
Fr. John Bullock, LC
Image: Portrait of Frank Pierce
Good Friday Reflection by Frank Pierce
“I think on this day it can be very sad, at least for me, to get caught up in the sorrow and pain Christ is enduring that it can lead us to forget the reason behind it all: Fulfillment and redemption and renewal. On this day, it is important for us to walk with Christ in His time of sorrow, but now that His passion is complete, it’s a great time for us to reflect on what actually just happened. Our sins were forgiven, and we are given the opportunity to be with Him forever. Christ opened the gates of heaven and made the whole world new again.
This is pretty overwhelming and leads me to start thinking about what I need to do to earn this place in heaven. But that’s not right, nor possible. Heaven cannot be earned. It is a gift freely given to us out of God’s perfect love for us. All we must do is say yes to that gift. On this night, let’s remember the love God has shown for us and the sacrifice he made to afford us eternal life with him in Heaven.’’