The Lessons of Two Requiems

Funeral Mass for Sister Abha MC
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption
Port au Prince, Haiti
September 12, 2016

Today we are celebrating, in thanksgiving to God, the whole and holy life of Sister Abha Minj. 
Mama Abha was known for her kindness and generosity. She was loving and jovial. We will miss her terribly for her wonderful personality and her quiet and deep holiness.

I remember when I was a boy of 10 years old, when I was going to Catholic School for the first time after four years of Public School, my father wanted to give me some advice about Sisters. I did not yet know what Sisters were. He said to me, in every group of Sisters, anywhere you go on the earth, there is always one who is heavy and strong. Be sure you stay close to that Sister. The Sisters are all good, but that one will be the best. She will be like a mother when she is young, and like a grandmother when she is old.

This is why, when I first met Sister Abha 30 years ago, I liked her right away, just for her size. 
And as the years went by, for all other manifestations of her quiet greatness, her deep and steady light.

In the first reading for this mass, from Revelations (21:1-7), we hear these words:
21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away....3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”.........6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
These words teach us the very deep lesson, that the work of God is a work that takes place deep inside of us. 

It is not like the external kingdoms of the world- of politics or economics, or worlds driven by popularity or wealth. 

It is something completely different. 

God creates a dwelling place within the people, in those whose hearts seek for God to dwell within them.

We have two clear examples from just the last 10 days here in Port au Prince of what this means: the witness of two Sisters who have died within a fortnight of each other, and whose faces speak to us even in death.

On September 2, we received the devastating news that Sr Isabel Sola Matas from Spain, was shot and robbed by bandits, and died immediately on the street. 

Some days later, we had the honor of receiving Sister's coffin at our hospital in order to cremate her body, and later the same afternoon, bless her ashes together with her family and her community. The grief of our whole Church was tremendous, and the number of such recent shootings around us added greatly to the fraying of our nerves.

As I waited for Sister Isa's body to arrive, I was on edge. I prayed the rosary for her. My heart beat faster than normal and my breathing was rapid. He violent death was about to become very real to me, like so many others, not through a newspaper headline, but by being right in my face.

When her coffin arrived directly from her funeral mass at Sacred Heart Church, and was placed on the ground at my feet,I knelt down, and taking a big breath, opened the cover. 
I was immediately impressed by three things: how small this mighty woman was, how strong and determined her features were, and mostly, how beautifully peaceful was her face.
Without being embalmed, without makeup or being "made over to be seen" -how deeply peaceful was the face of this saintly woman, whose life ended in such a violent way. 

The peace she had gained in this life was speaking from beyond the grave. Her strength was now a gift to me. My rapid pulse slowed, my heavy breath calmed. I blessed Sister's forehead, her hands and feet with holy oil, I placed in her hands the rosary I had prayed for her, lifted her tenderly into the crematorium, and blessed the holy fire that in just a few hours would return her body to it's original elements, even as God was purifying her soul to an original and pristine beauty.

Maybe some of you do not know that about a dozen years ago, Sr Abha herself was shot. The bandits broke into the convent at Gonnaives, in the night, Sr Abha patiently tried to convince them not to shoot. She offered some food, and the very little money she had. But they aimed the guns straight at Mama Abha, whose very goodness they had known when they were young and in need. Now, as young men under other influences, one of them pulled the trigger, she simultaneously pushed his gun to the side with her palm, and all the bones of her right hand were pulverized by the bullet. The thieves ran. Sister Abha did not.

When I remember this, and also how many times we went to Gonnaives to help Sr Abha in the big floods, remembering how she once saved herself and the Sisters by standing on the altar as the flood waters rose, when I remember the threats of the gangs under which Sister Abha and the Sisters  in Sans Fils lived- and still do-  when I think of last Friday when the surgeon could not reach Sister Abha in her anguish because of the political demonstrations in the streets of Petionville (the same messy traffic that prevented me from arriving on time to anoint Sister while she was still alive), with all this suffering in mind, the last thing I expected when I finally reached her lifeless body, as I knelt to bless her, was the deep peace of her face. 

Here is was again. The peaceful countenance of yet another Sister, well accustom to years of trials, and overly acquainted with grief. 

It is the peace the world cannot give.

The lessons of the book of Revelations is this: in the "new heavens, and new earth", 
God does not stop the bullet that is about to fell the saint. 

God does not open the traffic jams to make surgeons, or sacraments, arrive on time. 
God's work is rather in the heart, it is the long patient evolution that makes the saint accept the bullet, if there is no choice, and that makes the saint accept her ruptured gall bladder, if there is no choice. 

Their faces tell us this, "be at peace: what matters most is happening, what matters most happens all the time in hearts that are true. Be encouraged. The sign is the deep peace of Christ."

By the way, after Sr Abha was shot those many years ago, we were able to send her surgeons in Miami. Her choices for replace the fragmented bones were either from her hip or from a cadaver. The choice perplexed her. She told me that if the bones came from her hip, her hand would later have a tendency "to want to sit down." She told me if she took bones from a cadaver that was not Catholic, she was afraid that when she wanted to bless herself with the sign of the cross, the rebel bones would pull her hand off course. She settled for her hip!
The second reading from today's mass, from Romans (8:31-39), applies directly to these troubled times in Haiti, to these troubled times in the world. Listen closely to them:
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?.... 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? .......
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b]neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When Sister Abha returned to Haiti after having been shot in Gonnaives, she asked to be reassigned to Gonnaives. 

When Missionaries of Charity were recently slaughtered in Yemen (for a second time in their history), and their chaplain Fr Tom kidnapped and still disappeared, you would not be able to count the Missionaries of Charity, and other Sisters around the world, who offered immediately to take their places in Yemen. 

While "the new heavens and new earth" do not require us to be without human fear (even our Lord's anguish was shown by sweating blood) we become people who are not governed by fear, but governed by the love of God and the courage that comes from it. 

Sister Abha and many others who continue the humble work of goodness, even after being victims of evil and sin, show the amazing courage that comes from closeness to God. 
In the face of the courage, determination, and long suffering, - in the face of sadness and sacrifice carried with both joy and hope-in the faces of people like Sr Abha and Sister Isa, evil cannot hold it's ground.  

Finally, the gospel for this mass teaches us about the "Last Things". Our death, our judgement, our destiny.

From  Matthew (25:31-46)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Sr Abha passes her final judgement with the highest praise. This gospel describes exactly how she lived, how she cared for people, how she loved them as her own. 

The deaths of both Sr Isa and Sr Abha were sorrows that framed a celebration of great joy. On the Sunday in between their deaths, we gathered in this very Cathedral to thank God for the recognition of the holiness of Mother Theresa, now St Theresa of Calcutta. 

Close friend of Sr Abha, Mother Theresa chose Sr Abha to be one of the founding Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity in Haiti. This choice was so excellent, that after these many years, Sr Francisca rightly declared a few days ago that Sr Abha was the soul of the Sisters work here. 

Sr Abha is the first Missionary of Charity to die since Mother Theresa was declared a Saint. 
She is the first of the Missionaries of Charity to die in this region.

She will be the first to intercede for you and for all of us, before the face of God, for the faith, courage, and determination we need to continue the work God has given us to do.

She will interced before that Face that is more peaceful, more resolute, more beautiful than any small reflection of it might be in this life.

We thank God for this gift- the continuation of the goodness and love of our dear Sister Abha.
May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

Fr Rick Frechette CP
September 12, 2016
Port au Prince