Sermon for the Funeral Mass of Emmanuel Mensah
This past Saturday, February 17, I had the honor of offering the funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx for Private First Class Emmanuel Mensah, a recent immigrant from Ghana, an American citizen, in the National Guard hoping to train eventually as a Marine. Emmanuel died last December 28, in that tragic fire that took fourteen lives, in the Bronx apartment building where he was visiting his dad who lived on the ground floor. He died after rescuing four others from the blaze. The funeral was delayed so his relatives could all get here from Ghana. Perhaps you would want to read the homily I preached.
Emmanuel means “God is with us.”
That name, Emmanuel, is actually an act of faith, a prayer, “God is with us.”
It is a name, a statement of belief, we associate with Christmas, the birth of the one who is literally “God with us,” our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Last Christmas week, on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, in the roaring tragedy that burned-to-death fourteen of our family, friends, and neighbors in an apartment building a few blocks over, “God was with us” in Emmanuel Mensah.
In the selfless valor, the instinctive willingness to sacrifice and give his all, Emmanuel Mensah was indeed “God with us,” reminding us of the most noble summons of the human person, to give ourselves in love for another.
This past week we commenced Lent, and we heard Jesus tell us, “If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross daily and follow me!”
Last December 28, Emmanuel Mensah did just that.
Lent prepares us for Good Friday. “Greater love than this no one has than to give one’s life for another.” Jesus proved that on His cross.
Emmanuel, we love you, we honor you, we thank you, because so did you.
“God-was-with-us” those days in other radiant ways:
- In the compassionate response of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Martin of Tours parishes, Catholic Charities, and this entire community;
- In the heroic efforts of our New York Fire Department, the police, and rescue workers;
- In the embrace of our beloved Ghanaian community, whose vibrant Catholic faith, hope, and love was so dramatic;
- In the Mensah family, who have our love and condolences…
Understandably, there may have been those that Christmas week, when the destructive light of that ravaging fire hauntingly mingled with the joyful light of Christmas decorations, tempted to ask, “Where is God?”
Emmanuel Mensah, you answered that nagging question for us.
We are at peace imagining Jesus, “God is with us,” embracing you, Emmanuel, and whispering,
“Emmanuel, you listened to and obeyed me!”
“You took up your cross and followed me!”
“You showed great love in laying down your life for another!”
“Come, where God is with us forever, where fire and death can no longer singe us!”