Saint Columba’s Church, Derry
Our Gospel reading at Mass yesterday has Jesus saying to his apostles, Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. From the cries of anguish and relief last Friday night as Sister Clare’s coffin came round the final corner after her long journey home, I know that there are many people – both here and in Ecuador – who hunger for peace in the face of this earthquake and the deaths it caused. And Sister Clare’s family here in Derry and her religious family wonder why on earth a young, generous woman should be plucked from our midst. Couldn’t she have done so much in the aftermath of the earthquake?
But she had felt called to a religious community that has three aims within the Church:
- The Defence of the Eucharist
- The Defence of the Honour of Our Mother, especially in the privilege of her Virginity
- The Conquest of the Youth for Jesus Christ.
She was crazy enough to believe that this was the best possible way to live her life. And she died doing what she believed was beautiful. Like Jesus, she died young – and because of Jesus we believe that a life given in loving sacrifice is never wasted.
That is very counter-cultural. In our culture, we are invited to stop dreaming. Realism, cynicism and despair are in vogue. We have been sucked in by a cynicism which confuses despair with realism. Pope John Paul II said in 1980 – before Sister Clare was even born – that our culture declares “human weakness a fundamental principle, and so make it a human right. Christ, on the other hand, taught that a person has above all a right to his or her own greatness.” She believed that.
And Sister Clare had seen heroism and idealism alongside loss and betrayal in the city where she grew up. What held – and still holds – communities together in terrible times were the strong men and women and the strong community ties that would not be crushed by violence, loss and a seemingly hopeless future. We have seen that solidarity over the last two weeks as Clare’s family was supported during the long wait and the weekend wake. Stories were told and retold – and tears were mingled with laughter. In their distress, they knew that the faith that Sister Clare had espoused so radically was not a flight from anything but an embracing of the pain of the world – and loving it just like Jesus did on the Cross.
Her death is a huge cross for her family. Photographs are beautiful – but little compensation for a real human voice that is no longer with us, a face that will no longer walk in the door, a smile that her some young members of her family will never know.
But her ministry did not die with her. Her life and death have posed questions for many of her contemporaries – what is worthwhile doing in life, what makes a beautiful person, who we want to have as our idols? The mission of Christ’s Church in this diocese is not to tell people what they can’t do – but to tell them of Jesus’ dream for what they can become.
We pray together in our confusion and questions. Like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, we trust, not that we will find the answers, but that there is a God who can write straight on crooked lines and who can make sense of the apparently senseless. And we promise to support the immediate family as the years go on. The pictures and the memories may fade a little – but those who have lived in the love of the Lord will never die.
Eternal Rest grant unto her, O Lord.
 Cf Rolheiser, R., Forgotten among the Lilies, New York, Doubleday, 2005, p41 and 45.