Fr. Paul Scalia's Funeral Homily for Lizz Lovett (Requiescat in Pace)

Lizz Lovett with her husband and children.
Lizz Lovett with her husband and children. (photo: Photo courtesy of the Lovett family)

Lizz Lovett passed away quietly on July 2 surrounded by her husband, children, family and friends after a two-year battle with kidney cancer.

When I published the article When a Mother Has to Say Goodbye to Her Children in early February, Lizz wasn’t expected to live to the month of March. She managed to come back from the brink of death and regain some weight and strength. I remember her proudly telling me when she was able to walk 3000 steps in one day. But this reprieve from the disease didn’t last long and the past few months have witnessed her steady decline. Through it all, she was patient, steady, and uncomplaining, while offering up her sufferings to anyone who needed prayer, especially for priests.

Her husband Ryan told me that during her last hours continual prayers were said by family and friends. When it was clear the end was near, everyone prayed the Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Because she was so gaunt, her heartbeat could be seen in her back. At the final line of the litany, Ryan said that Lizz’s heart stopped beating.

“I had the impression that Lizz was not waiting, not struggling, but simply busy in preparation, preparing her soul to meet her Lover,” said Lovett’s friend Douglas Markwell, who was present when Lizz died. “For Lizz, death was a greeting, a joyous union.”

Even after her death, Lizz continued to show her Christian witness. In lieu of flowers, she drew up several suggestions of what she would love people to do in her memory:

  • Spend an hour in adoration of our good God
  • Spend a day (or night) in humble service to a stranger
  • Offer a simple act of gratitude to God for His gift of life to you, and to your loved ones
  • Pray to God to discover just who it is you most need to forgive (even if it is you) and then: truly forgiving that person. Face-to-face if possible.
  • Listen for that still, small voice again: then paying attention with trust and confidence
  • Meditate on: “This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil” (Hebrews 6:19)
  • Meditate on: “…but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3:4)

Her funeral, held Thursday July 7 at St. Stephen's Church in Portland, Oregon, was standing-room only. Fr. Paul Scalia was the main celebrant, along with Fr. John Boyle, Fr. Eric Andersen and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers.

Fr. Scalia prepared and welcomed Lizz for her entry into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2005. A few months later, he was the celebrant at Lizz and Ryan’s wedding. In his funeral homily, Fr. Scalia referenced the video Lizz made with Real Life Catholic as a witness against physician-assisted suicide.

In addition to her husband, Ryan, Lizz is survived by their four children, her parents, two sisters, a brother and a large extended family.

Lizz Lovett, requiescat in pace.

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Homily at the Funeral of Lizz Lovett
Fr. Paul Scalia

It is an honor preach this funeral for such a great woman. But it is also somewhat difficult. Because how do you preach the funeral of someone who has already given such a great witness to the Catholic Faith? Who has already, as Mother Teresa used to say, "preached without preaching"?

“Jesus said to them untie him and let him go” (Jn 11:44).

These words of Our Lord at the tomb of Lazarus have the tone and the note of freedom, of being unbound and set free. He frees Lazarus from death and then he has others free Lazarus from the burial cloths. The prayers of the funeral Mass likewise touch on this theme. They petition that God set Lizz free and grant her the greatest kind of freedom—freedom from sin and death.

Now the raising of Lazarus is one of Our Lord’s most important miracles. In a sense, the whole account summarizes the mission of Jesus Christ in this world. It shows his union with us, especially in our sorrow: “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35), And then it shows his power to save us: “Lazarus, come out!” (Jn 11:43) Both his desire and his power to free us, to free Lizz, and to grant us and to her not just any kind of freedom, but the greatest we desire: from sin and death. And this helps us to understand both how the Lord blessed Lizz and how we are to pray for her.

Lizz's death and burial have fallen and either side of the 4th of July, Independence Day, our national day of freedom. Of course, ours was less carefree than in other years. But the timing was still somehow significant, even Providential. Because Lizz has shown us the truth about one of the most controversial issues of the day: what it means to be free.

Most people think of freedom as the ability to do whatever we want, even to the point of taking our own lives. And with that mindset they would have considered someone in Lizz’s situation to be the opposite of free. But that is not what we encountered, is it? On the contrary, those who visited Lizz in the past several years found her to be quite free. Not physically, of course. But she possessed a freedom, a more profound and a deeper freedom than the world could promise; a spiritual freedom that often eludes us. The freedom that allowed her to be peaceful and courageous, not just in the face of death, but also in the midst of the sufferings and frustrations. Some claim that true freedom would have been seizing control and doing everything on her own terms. But she showed a different and authentic kind of freedom.

Of course this was not Lizz’s accomplishment, but it was Our Lord’s work within her. In another place in John’s Gospel, Our Lord says “If the Son make you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn 8:36). And as if to confirm those words, he frees Lazarus. Jesus the Son of God set Lizz free. He freed her first in the waters of baptism when he washed away her sins and made her a child of God. With every confession, with every reception of Communion, she became more free because she became more his. He made her free because she trusted in him. Freedom is not found in controlling everything, but in trusting the Lord. It is not found in choosing, but in being chosen. Here is the Christian paradox: that we only find true freedom by binding ourselves to Christ.

Almost 11 years, ago many of us were together here in Portland for a wedding, for Ryan and Lizz’s wedding. We were there to witness the beginning of a bond and commitment that again many people see as the opposite of freedom. Think of the terms we use: “the old ball and chain,” “tying the knot.” These are not terms that speak of freedom. But what have we seen? We have seen the grace of marriage bringing freedom to both of them, the freedom of soul to face together with faith and hope all of the difficulties and tragedies that, in God’s mysterious providence, have come to them.

And in a sense, we are gathered here this morning for another wedding. Heaven is described as the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. It is the marriage between Christ and the Church. Every marriage in this world is meant to point to that definitive marriage. At this Mass, we pray for Lizz’s entrance into that Wedding Feast, to that Wedding Feast that by her marriage she pointed to. At that Wedding Feast she will be perfectly, free from all pain and suffering, free from all sadness, free most of all from death—and made glorious in God’s presence.

So what is our role here this morning? Simply to pray for the perfection of this freedom in Christ. To pray that the Lord now bring to completion what he first began at her Baptism. This means that we give thanks to God, which is, of course, counterintuitive. But we have to recall that God’s goodness is a greater reality than all of our faults and failings and even a greater reality than death.

Actually, we are not much different than the crowd at Lazarus’ tomb—which means that we are first to believe, to trust in Our Lord’s presence and his power. Jesus wept. He is present here with us in our sorrows. He wept then not just for Lazarus but for all who have died. He wept because death has entered the world. He wept for all who mourn. He wept for us and with us. And like the crowd at the tomb of Lazarus, we are called to have faith in Our Lord’s power, his power to save, in his power to make Lizz glorious now in heaven, his power to console us in a grief that seems sometimes insurmountable. Death has no power in the presence of Our Lord.

And we pray for Lizz. It is Our Lord alone who raised Lazarus from the dead, but notice that he allowed others to assist him. He said to them, “Untie him and let him go” (Jn 11: 44). Something similar happens with us today. It is Our Lord himself and him alone, but he allows us and desires us to assist him in this by our prayers. And what an extraordinary gift that is: to think that our meager prayers, our imperfect prayers, have the ability to help her on her way.

Certainly over the past several years Lizz has lived a certain amount of purgatory here on earth. But we never know the moment when a soul enters heaven. And so by our prayers we accompany her there. It is a way of continuing to show our love and affection for her.

And finally we pray for ourselves. In this gospel passage they bring Our Lord to the tomb to that place of death. They say to him “come and see”(Jn 11.34). We have to do that also in our prayer, because those of us who mourn are experiencing a certain kind of death. “Come and see,” invite him into our sorrows and suffering. It is precisely to be with us in those that he came into the world—so that he would have them in hand and be able to transform them into works of grace.

Let us pray that we who have been blessed with such a great witness of the Catholic Faith in Lizz will be inspired to imitate the good things that we saw, the good things that he worked in her. And let us pray that we too will be freed—freed from our sins, from all our vices, and ultimately from all suffering and death itself. So that we too can rejoice in that perfect freedom in heaven, the freedom of the children of God where we will rejoice not just in the presence, but with Our Lord himself, but also with our sister Lizz, as we receive that perfect freedom from Our Lord and receive the glory that he has died and risen to give us.

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A fund has been set up to assist the Lovett Family with funeral, medical and childcare expenses.