A few days ago, I attended my sixth high school graduation as a teacher. The following day, I attended the first funeral of a former student.
I had wondered before, briefly, at a few sporadic moments, what it would be like to go to the funeral of a former student. Of course, I hoped that it would be several more years before I would find out. At the graduation, I watched the students parade by, diplomas in hand, with an unknown future filled with a thousand moments they couldn’t expect. As a whole, they were excited, ready to leave the halls of their high school and venture into a bigger, bolder world. The next day, I stood before a woman who had crossed that same stage three years earlier, but, too quickly, now rested in a coffin.
My beautiful, wonderful, frustrating, and interesting students have a million possibilities in their lives. Some will go on to achieve great things, things that will cause them to be well-known and highly esteemed. Some will go on to achieve small things, things that will make them loved by a few and yet will impact the world in an authentic way.
And some won’t last very long at all. They get caught up in addiction or depression or violence. It was no secret at the funeral that we shouldn’t be there and that there should be a very different ending to the story that was before us. It was also no secret that drugs were responsible. As I watched her mother in a mournful embrace with her husband, I wanted a picture to show my students. I wanted to tell them, “This is how drugs impact your family. This is what you are doing to your parents.”
I have great hopes for my students as they embark on the exciting journey of life after high school. Yet I also tend to worry for them, too. Will they be prepared? Will they make the choices they should? Will they continue to seek the Lord? I’m unable to keep up with all of them, so I mostly just hope and pray that they will pursue true happiness. I want them to know that the rules of the Church, the rules of the Lord, are not to burden them or restrict them. Rather, the rules are in place to give them a greater freedom, a higher hope, and a grander ending to their story than anything on earth can offer.
The funeral homily focused on how my student sought to fill the unquenchable longing in her heart. Father spoke of how she had numerous talents and yet she was never satisfied. Within us, we have a chasm that surpasses the Grand Canyon, something with a definite and precise means of being fulfilled. The Lord is the only one who can satisfy all of the longings in our hearts, the only One who can fulfill the seemingly infinite desire we have within us. If we insist on filling our hearts with other things, we will never be truly content.
Now my student knows the Lord in a manner undimmed by addiction, disbelief, pride, or fear. Now she has met Him face to face. And I hope that this encounter permits her to rest in peace forever.
May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.