The following is the reflection that Sister Jean Anne Zappa, OSU, gave at the funeral Mass of Sister Judith Rice, OSU, on August 10, 2023.

I do not know how many of you knew that Judy did not like things to last too long—a meeting, a lecture, a homily, obviously not even her funeral liturgy. She chose short readings. I also don’t know if you knew Judy was directionally challenged. She did not mind getting lost—she was happy to discover nature, new scenery, animals or whatever while she was driving.

When Judy really got lost and could not get back on track, she went over the bridge to Indiana and came back across the bridge, started over again and found her way home. Judy was from Indiana, she knew her roots, her familiar surroundings, and her center. She knew what gave her focus and grounded her.

The readings Judy chose for her funeral reflect that sense of finding one’s way, going back to the roots, going back to what grounds you, to where the center really is.

Isaiah was constantly reminding the Israelites of their center—the covenant relationship with God. Every time they were caught up in the unessentials and lost their way, Isaiah would try repeatedly to invite them back to the core of what their relationship was with the faithful God who wanted to always be in relationship with them even, when they failed. The constant call from God, the Teacher, will make it clear: “I have unconditional love for you.” It was Isaiah’s hope that one day Israel would wake up, find their way, and proclaim: “This is the way. I will walk in it with my God.” And in times when we lose our way, we need to remember there is a faithful God who loves us unconditionally.

Peter’s letter was written to many different groups of Christians a few decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus. In this chapter, however, Peter is writing to all Christians, especially those under persecution. They were not sure of their direction—w wondering even if it was the right direction—with all the challenges, suffering and doubts they were experiencing. Fear became their center, rather than discipleship. Peter reminds them of five simple commands to live as a true disciple despite all they were experiencing: have unity, be sympatric, show love for one another, have a tender heart and [have] a humble mind. These five commands were to be directional for them to find their way as disciples, to get grounded and go to the center—their basic beliefs as followers of Jesus. These simple ways of living are for all followers of Jesus, for if we try to live them we will be on the right path.

Our foundress, St. Angela Merici, had a similar message for us in her 10th legacy: “Mutual love and harmony are sure signs you are on the right path and pleasing to God.”  Judy was on the right path in her life because she truly strove to live these five commands with all the persons she related to, and how she approached her vocation, ministry and living, especially the commands that said have a tender heart and a humble mind. Judy always reflected a tender heart, always responding to the one in need. Having a humble mind is to set yourself aside, to lift others and disappear, and Judy did that well because she knew her way, always returning to her roots, going across that bridge in her relationship with her loving God and with all she encountered.

In the gospel Judy chose, you have to backtrack a bit and go a few sentences before to know its meaning. The disciples were full of themselves, just coming back from their preaching—their internship, so to speak, as disciples. They were bragging that even the demons listened to them. And Jesus reminds them to rejoice, not in their success, but in the fact their names are written in heaven. The disciples didn’t get it.

Go back to where you came from, do not forget your roots, re-center. It is about your relationship with God. Don’t lose your way. Jesus continues the dialogue with God, thanking God for the deep revelation of God’s graciousness and love for each of his disciples. Jesus does not want us to lose our way and he will do anything to keep us on the right path because of God’s grace and love.

This awareness of God’s unconditional love for us comes to us, not by intellectual capacity or being learned, as Jesus says, but as a gift from God. Do we get it? It is not about us, it is about God’s kingdom. Do we get it? Do we grasp the reality of God’s love?

Do we get it when it comes to Jesus’ identity of who he is with us? Jesus taught us, he rejoices with us, he loves us and desires to be in relationship with us, as Isaiah desired the Israelites to know God and as Peter wanted the disciples to know [God]. The ability to get it is not about us or our intelligence, rather, it is a gift of God’s grace given to us when we return to the center, go back to our roots.

Father Richard Rohr said “We get it when we do not think ourselves into new ways. We get it when we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”  That is how Judy lived her life, her baptismal call, and [her] religious life vocation. She got it.

Judy always needed to cross the bridge and come back to get her bearings and find her way. On Friday, Judy made her final crossing on the bridge and is now home.

Isaiah 30:19-21

Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. God will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’

1 Peter 3:8-9 & 4:8-11

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.  Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever.

Luke 10:21-22

At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’