The day of 17-year-old Camille Berns’ funeral in St. Louis Park, Minn., I was recovering from walking pneumonia, so I watched online in bed, tissues nearby to soften both my illness and heart.
Suicide is the worst kind of death, and in one so young and promising, unfathomable.
I’d never met Camille, but I’m connected to her through her mom and several aunts, all originally from Wahpeton. Whenever she was mentioned, I’d smile, thinking of my only sibling with the same name. This girl had to be as special as my Camille. It just goes with the territory.
I’ve gotten to know her better recently through stories told and details filled. But in many ways, this just deepens the mystery. Why, sweet one? Why?
The funeral homily brought something unexpectedly sublime into my bedroom that blizzardy morning when life felt so bleak. If not total resolve, at least beautiful solace.
From Wisdom: “The souls of the just are in the hands of God…and his care is with his elect.” And from Romans, “So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s…”
The Gospel reading (John) revealed Jesus hearing of Lazarus’ death. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother might not have died!” Martha cries out.
In the homily, Fr. Steven Hoffman noted how Jesus immediately enters into Martha’s sorrow, as he does when we’re hurting. “And he loved Camille, every moment of her life, even when she didn’t know it, and maybe when she struggled to believe. That did not change the heart of Jesus.”
Martha, responding to Jesus’ presence and love, despite despair, turns to trust; to faith. “I believe that you are the Christ,” she asserts. His love helps us believe.
We’ve all cried out in anguish at times, Fr. Hoffman said, wondering where God is. In those moments, we, too, can choose to trust in Jesus, even when we don’t understand.
“Jesus brings to the experience of death something new. ‘Your brother will rise,’” he said. “He confirms how precious and dear the lives of his children are,” he continued; enough to die on the cross for them, and us, and rise to save us, body and soul.
In times of grief, Fr. Hoffman said, when words fail us, “the (Holy) Spirit pleads for us to God with sighs, with groanings, with tears. How beautiful to know that your heart, and everything in it, is held by God; is taken to God’s heart.”
“Jesus suffered and died for Camille,” he said, “and his heart, at every moment, was merciful love,” just as it is for each of us. “We are going to leave her in the hands of merciful love. We are going to leave our doubts in the hands of merciful love. We are going to leave our pain, our sorrow, our struggles in the heart of merciful love.”
And so, we are left with this: love, unending, ready to forgive our sins and catch us when we fall; from love into Love.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on March 7, 2022.]