Sister Mary Janice McCann
Funeral Homily for Sr. Janice McCann, CHM
March 2, 2017
As we come together this morning to say “farewell” to Sister Janice, we are consoled and given encouragement by the words of Sacred Scripture. These words speak to us, first and foremost, of the tender love of God, but they also remind us of how that love was so beautifully reflected in the life of this woman, our sister.
And so, in our first reading, from the Book of Sirach, we give praise to God for “all of the wondrous things on earth.” We are reminded of Sr. Jan’s love for nature. I’m told she would often go on walks and pick up little leaves or pine cones that struck her as particularly beautiful and leave them on the little counter in the dining room – signally to her sisters that she had been out, but also that she found her way safely back inside. As we look on nature, as Sister Jan often did, we find at once simple things and yet great complexity. We marvel at the intricateness of God’s creation. Also, as we look on nature we see things that seem to exist not out of strict necessity, but seemingly just because, out of sheer gratuitousness – as though God simply delighted in making things of beauty for their own sake. One can’t help but wonder if Sister Janice was trying to imitate her Creator in her own intricate creations, in her quilling, her cards and her table decorations.These were simple things made of simple materials, that were not strictly necessary for the world to keep going, but they were nonetheless beautiful things done with great care and love, and they communicated God’s love to so many.
This reading from Sirach also reminds us of the blessings of “joy of heart” and “abiding peace,” both of which are qualities that Sister Jan possessed. Her sisters in the community tell me that this “childlike” joy seemed especially evident in Jan after her stoke nearly three years ago; that after this event (which we might look upon with human eyes as tragic) it seemed like something broke free in her. She seemed to be more lighthearted and happy, and she liked to tease and tell jokes. I don’t think it was the case that she was not those things before, but that perhaps this event revealed that joy and peace that were already well-cultivated in her heart.
The second reading, from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, speaks beautifully of gratitude: “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus.” Of course, this gratitude goes both ways. Undoubtedly, the choice of this reading by Sister Jan reflects her gratitude to God for all of you. But it also reflects our gratitude for her. Indeed, we can “give thanks to God her account for the grace of God bestowed on her,” and which was, in turn, shared through her with so many. This is, in fact, one of main things we gather to do in the funeral rites of the Church. Yes, we come to mourn. Yes, we come to pray for the eternal repose of Sister Jan. But also, we come to give thanks to God for the gift of her life in this great prayer of “thanksgiving” – the Eucharist.
This theme of gratitude is then echoed and magnified in the Gospel, in this familiar story of the ten lepers, only one of whom returns to Jesus to give thanks. The choice of this reading may be telling. My hunch is that Sister Janice, like all of us, identified on some days more with the nine who did not return, but that (again, like all of us) she desired to be more and more like the one leper who did return. But in so many ways, she did just that. What was her commitment to religious life, to this community and to the various apostolates to which she was assigned, but a thanksgiving made incarnate, a thanksgiving made flesh in a life of service? Whether it was in her years as a devoted teacher and principal, or later in hospital work, or in her art, Sister Jan was making a return to the Lord out of gratitude for the blessings she had received in this life. And she did none of this haphazardly, but with great skill, devotion and attention to detail. What an intricate and beautiful “thanksgiving” her life was!
Of course, there is much more that could be said about the many good qualities of Sister Janice – her generosity, her competence and excellence in any task or assignment, her great attention to detail, her love for nature, for snow, and for Christmas; her love for travel, music and her evening glass of white zinfandel; her deep devotion to our Mother, Mary and to the Rosary. It’s important, I think, to mention these things – not so much to eulogize, but simply to take stock of the many blessings in this life which Jan received and to take stock of the blessing that she, in turn, was to so many – to her family, to her community and to the world.
Of course, I can’t fail to mention how close Sister Jan was to Sister Ann Therese, whose funeral will be here on Saturday. It seems fitting that these two who were so close in their life in community were called home to the Lord just two days apart. It reminds us of the oneness of the Church on earth and the Church in heaven.
There were a couple of quotations that Sister Jan was fond of that she had asked to be incorporated somehow in her funeral plans, and the one that I found particularly striking was from Saint Teresa of Calcutta, better known, of course, simply as “Mother Teresa.” She said, “Give your hands to serve and your heart to love.” As we look back on the life of Sister Jan, I think we can say with confidence that she did both very well. And so, we thank God for her even as we mourn her passing, pray for her and commend her soul to God.
Sister Jan, know that you are loved, that you are missed, and that we look forward to that day when we will see you again and enjoy your company once more in the presence of the Living God.
Sister Jan was, I’m told, also very proud of her Irish heritage, and so I think it only fitting to conclude with the traditional Irish Blessing: May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand
Rev. Thomas J. Hennen