Homily for the Funeral of Sister Lillian Alam
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Along with Monsignor Michael Thomas and James Root, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to the Alam family and to the Franciscan Family of Sister Lillian. We will miss her.
The Sisters chose the readings of this day, and so I would like to reflect with you on them. From the Book of Proverbs was read:
“When he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command; when he fixed the foundations of earth, then was I beside him as artisan; I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing over the whole of his earth, having my delight with human beings.”
This profound and mystical description of Holy Wisdom (Santa Sophia) is a beautiful way of describing God’s love for his creatures. The Holy Spirit in the Syriac Tradition, much like Holy Wisdom, is referred to in feminine terms. This is God’s playful, loving and delightful side, made known to us in Holy Wisdom. It is beautiful. It is also a beautiful way of describing Sister Lillian Alam, the trustworthy daughter of Francis and Clare, and who also delighted God, delighted in God, and was a joy and delight for each person she met, honoring and defending them no matter what was their state in life.
From Lebanon to Morocco, from Egypt to America, and from El Paso to New York, Sister Lillian, in her own radical, feisty, dynamic and creative way delighted God’s creatures. She advocated, fought and loved her way through life. She was so very well loved by her family in Lebanon and by her spiritual Franciscan family as well, and she has deeply touched the lives of so many.
I don’t know how we became so fond of each other, as bishops and nuns are not supposed to get along! But we did. And I loved her.
In the second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to Timothy it reads:
“I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered my trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry.”
This prayer of Saint Paul, which is the prayer of an older disciple encouraging a younger one, is also the prayer of Sister Lillian. I loved her maturity. She was truly that wise and mature disciple who was strengthened by Christ. Even though she left this world far too early, in our commonly held opinion, she was not only strengthened by Christ but she can be considered trustworthy in all she did.
What first attracted me to her was her passion for what she was doing; advocating for those troubled with problems of immigration and human trafficking. Likewise, with her most recent UN advisory work, we have heard from so many people, was stellar. Whatever and wherever she was, most of us don’t know all that she was doing, but she was doing God’s work! I can only imagine this strong Lebanese woman standing up to border patrol agents and human traffickers alike; and how about UN officials? Sister Lillian was faithful to those people whom Pope Francis reminds us of so very often, those who are in the shadows: the refugee, the abused, the migrant, the undocumented, the imprisoned, the forgotten. May all those you assisted in this life, dear Sister Lillian, meet you one day in the next.
And the last passage, from the Gospel of Luke reads:
“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be…Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
This passage from Saint Luke has special meaning for the sons and daughters of Francis and Claire. First, the treasure is in fact where the heart is, and Sister Lillian lived by the passion of her heart with so much joy and gusto. To be honest, for a woman so full of life, it was hard for her to suffer like she did. I would often say to her I hope we will both be able to “suffer well,” as Bishop Fulton Sheen urged us to do: “to live well, to suffer well, to die in his embrace well.” This is a special grace. I think she suffered as well as anyone could do in her difficult situation.
Second, Sister Lillian lived and loved the poor. During her first years in the Borj Hammoud neighborhood of Beirut, she struggled with the poor and the refugees. This was told to me by Bishop Samir Nassar who alongside of Sister Lillian worked each day for all those in need.
Third, we hear the words, “Sell all you have and give alms.” This is one more Franciscan trait and Sister Lillian did it well. But the last sentence “much is required of the person entrusted with much,” was true of Sister Lillian, and she delivered well. Well done good and faithful servant. May you rest in peace.
Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord….