The following is the reflection that Sr. Janet M. Peterworth gave at the funeral Mass of Sr. Mary Lee Hansen on February 8, 2023.

Our readings today are so Mary Lee. She mixed and matched, spliced and patched the scripture pieces until she had exactly what she wanted us to hear on this occasion.

“Be so full of God that you shine like the full moon, open up your petals like roses, break forth in blossoms like the lilies” (so says Sirach), “Love one another, because everyone who loves is begotten of God” (says John in a letter to Christians in Ephesus), “God gave us eternal life and this life is God’s son; the Son, in the Flesh, moved into our neighborhood; He pitched his tent among us.” (so, say some translations of John’s Gospel). Mary Lee chose all these readings for us to hear today. They are all so her.

But why the Book of Sirach? Hardly a household name among the Bible books. This book covers a multitude of issues related to human life, but its focus is to show the Hebrew people how to live within the covenant, how to be faithful to God even in small things. It is not well known or oft quoted in Catholic circles as it covers only about 3% of the scripture readings used on Sundays or holy days.

But the passage that Mary Lee chose for us reflects nature and I suspect that is what appealed to her. She saw nature through the click of her camera lens. She captured nature through the stroke of her paintbrushes. She lived with nature in the birds she fed, the squirrels she watched, and the singular, beautiful black fish that lived in her room.

And John’s letter (probably not the same John who wrote the Gospel) gives us another glimpse of Mary Lee, her approach to life and what she wanted us to hear. “Everyone who loves is begotten of God.”  Scholars think that this letter was written between 95 -110 AD and advises Christians how to discern true teachers by their love.

Recently someone told me how grateful she was to Mary Lee because “she was so kind and loving toward my mother during mother’s journey toward death. I will never forget the kindness and love she showed my mother.” I am sure that there are others who might say the same thing. How many hours did Mary Lee sit with the dying during the years she was at Marian Home and Nazareth! How many prayers did she send up on behalf of those who could no longer pray themselves! I believe that Mary Lee saw herself as “begotten of God.” And I believe she wants us to think of ourselves in that same way.

Mary Lee was fond of saying to me, “I pray for you every day, Janet.” And I believe she did. We have known each other for a long time. We lived and taught together in Omaha in the 60s. And she was my “right hand woman” in the ’80s when she served as administrative assistant to the Leadership Council. This was before computers were on the scene. She deciphered and typed and corrected my hand-written materials, no small task with just an electric typewriter and correction tape. She was truly “begotten of God” to have done that!

And finally, Mary Lee chose John’s Gospel and I think that verse 14 of the first chapter was important to her: “The Word became Flesh and moved into the neighborhood or pitched His tent among us.”

I don’t really know Mary Lee’s vocation story, so I don’t know exactly when the Word made Flesh moved into her neighborhood. Perhaps early in life at her baptism? Perhaps when she was a victim of the dreaded disease of the ’40s, polio? Perhaps when she was a young woman at Creighton where she first met the Ursulines, specifically Sr. Mary Brendan, who became her dear friend? I have no idea, but I am sure that the Word, Jesus, certainly did live in her neighborhood. He certainly did pitch His tent in her campground.

And, living in your neighborhood and in your campground implies a certain intimacy, and it is that intimacy that John means when he uses the Greek word “know” in the sentence: “This is eternal life: that they know you.” It is more than a scholarly “know,” it means an “intimate know.” And Mary Lee picked that verse, skipping from Chapter 1 to Chapter 17 to have us hear that sentence today as she lies here before us. To tell us perhaps of her intimate love of God and nature and people and no doubt to invite us to have that same intimate love of those things that were important to her.

Once more I will set forth my theme

to shine like the moon in its fullness!

Listen to me, my faithful children: open up your petals,

like roses planted near running waters;

Send up the sweet odor of incense,

break forth in blossoms like the lily.

Raise your voices in a chorus of praise;

bless the Lord for all his works!

Proclaim the greatness of his name,

loudly sing his praises,

With music on the harp and all stringed instruments;

sing out with joy as you proclaim:

—Sirach 39: 12-15

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.

In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world.
And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
—1 John 4: 7,8, 15–17, 5:11
And the Word became flesh

and made his dwelling among us,

and we saw his glory,

the glory as of the Father’s only Son,

full of grace and truth.

 Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.

—John 1:14, 17:3