Homily by Cardinal Blase Cupich – Mass of Christian Burial for Officer Ella Grace French
This is not to end in death
We know, Elizabeth and your family, that anything we say to console you at the loss of Ella falls so woefully short. We are only beginning to know Ella as you have known her over a lifetime: a woman of empathy for the sufferings of others, humble enough to know she could always improve, and generous to the point of dedicating her life to making a difference in our world. So, let our presence, the tears in our eyes, the sadness on our faces, our voices cracking with emotion and the somber solemnity of these rites through which the city embraces you, be a source of some comfort in this moment of unspeakable pain.
And to you, members of law enforcement here in Chicago and beyond, we stand with you as you grieve the loss of Officer French and we pray with you for the recovery and healing of Officer Carlos Yanez. We can only imagine how the tragic death of another colleague in the line of duty impacts you as you take up the daunting challenge of providing security and peace on our streets. Her senseless killing once again sharpens the gnawing anxiety you and your family members feel each day as you leave home, wondering if you will return safely at the end of your shift. We know and appreciate that you sacrifice a lot, putting your life on the line. We pray that your patron, Michael the Archangel, who protects those who protect us, will watch over you, but also banish from your minds and hearts any temptation that leads you to conclude that you are alone or that you have to suffer in a lonely silence.
Through the Gospel just proclaimed, an ancient community of Christians reaches across the ages to speak to us of their experience of Jesus entering their lives as they deal with loss. As we mourn Ella, the Lord’s words to them are for us: this is not to end in death. Jesus brings us to believe those words by doing three things.
First, after he hears about Lazarus, the friend he deeply loved, he delays going to Bethany. Grieving needs its own time. For grieving puts us in touch with the truth about of our lives, that we are poor, vulnerable creatures, totally dependent on God’s tender mercies. We cannot run away for grieving, lest other emotions invade our hearts and convince us that death has the last word in this moment. We know these emotions: anger, anxiety, even despair. No, we have to grieve and be vulnerable before the Lord. We have to allow our hearts to be open to God’s consoling mercy and the healing balm of his promise that death will not have the last word, that this will not end in death.
Jesus then joins Mary and Martha and the community in Bethany, reminding us that it is in shared suffering that we discover the depths of our unity. It can be easy to feel like our shared successes, or our shared opinions, values, even our shared traditions are what ultimately bring us together as people. But what really unites us as children of God is our ability to enter into each other’s sufferings.
Elizabeth, you told me that Ella always understood herself as a work in progress, how her experience as a corrections officer made her a better human being because it helped her develop an empathy for others. As a result of getting to know the prisoners she guarded, she came to a richer understanding of her humanity and her own life. Ella took the time to know others, to connect with them on the level of our common fragile humanity and understood that she too always had more to learn, that no one should pretend to put the period at the end of the sentence of a person’s life or, worse, claim they could not learn from others or change for the better. It was her empathy that prompted her to rush a one-year-old baby and her mother on her own to the hospital, something she no doubt was encouraged to do as she witnessed the example of her fellow officers.
It was her connectedness with others that made her care for her colleagues on the job, asking how they are doing, bringing cinnamon rolls to the station, talking to people on the street, even when they were angry and disrespectful. It was her ability to connect with others that taught her compassion, empathy, and responsibility for others. She was strong enough to connect with people on the level of human weakness, and so should we be in her memory.
So, let us all take a step back and put aside any impulse that would divide us, and instead find how connected we can be when we share our burdens, our sorrows, our grieving. Yes, let us grieve together for Ella, but also for all those she cared about, for the children young and old, cut down by gun fire every day, for our youth whose hopes for a better life are hemorrhaging as doors of opportunity open to others are slammed shut, for families afraid of becoming a victim of gun violence, or a carjacking, or an assault and for Ella’s fellow police officers who, like her, have given the full measure of their lives. It is in discovering how close we can be to each other in sharing our common loss that we are given the hope that we are more than any trial we face, and can trust the words we hear today, this is not to end in death.
Finally, Jesus calls out to his friend Lazarus locked in the tomb, but he needs the help of others to untie him from the bindings that enshroud him in death. The message is clear, we each have a role in seeing that this moment does not end in death. That begins by claiming responsibility for each other, no matter where we live in the city. We should know and pray for the names of all victims of violence as we would a member of the family, for we are all brothers and sisters. We each need to do our part to help law enforcement as they work to hold people accountable for their actions and stem the flood of illegal guns. We all have a role in untying the cords of injustice that keep many of our brothers and sisters bound in poverty and despair. Ella was not one to remain indifferent or neutral in the face of the great human suffering in our city, for she knew that doing so was no way to be a human being, doing so was not the way to be a work in progress.
We now commend this beautiful work in progress to the mercy of God, trusting that this moment will not end in death but that the Lord will bring her to completion in the life that knows no end. But we should also pray that we may be inspired by what we have seen in her life, even to the point of making the words of Jesus our own in the face of the challenges before us, and together, proclaim them in solidarity and with unshakable conviction: this is not to end in death.