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You do not carry your grief alone; this community stands with you

Archbishop Wenski's homily at funeral of FBI agent Laura Schwartzenberger

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the funeral Mass for FBI Special Agent Laura Schwartzenberger, who was killed along with a fellow agent Feb. 2, 2021, while serving a search warrant in a child pornography investigation. Schwartzenberger was an active member of Mary, Help of Christians Parish in Parkland, where the funeral Mass was celebrated Feb. 6, 2021.

Today we commend the soul of Special Agent Laura Schwartzenberger to her Maker trusting in his Divine Mercy. Our faith in the Resurrection strengthens us even though it does not ease the burden of the cross of grief that her family, her friends, and her co-workers bear today.

We offer our sincerest condolences to Laura’s husband, Jason, to their two sons, Gavin and Damon; our condolences go out to the family of Daniel Alfin as well. We share their grief and the grief of the parents, siblings and blood relations of these public servants who were stricken in the line of duty.

As we pray for Laura, we also pray for those who were injured, and we hold in prayer each one of you at this most difficult time. Your pain is real; and our entire community here South Florida shares it with you – and we wish that in sharing it we could take away some of your pain. And though we cannot do that, we want you to know that you do not carry it alone. The entire community stands with you and will continue to do so in the days ahead.

Laura’s tragic death reminds us of the fragility of all our lives. In her work, she saw the dark side of our fallen human nature and she sought to serve and protect us all, but especially the young and vulnerable, from the “wickedness and snares of the devil who prowls the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

And that she died, along with Daniel Alfin, in the line of duty reminds us of how thin that line of defense provided by our law enforcement authorities is, how thin that line that protects us from barbarity; that defends our communities so that they remain just that: communities and not moral jungles.

Gavin and Damon, your Mom was a hero as is every agent, every law enforcement member that puts on a badge and reports for duty. They aren’t celebrities; but they are heroes. Celebrities show off; heroes show up.

But being a hero does not mean that you don’t know fear; it means not letting fear overwhelm you to keep you from helping your neighbor. She and all those who die in the line of duty are heroes because in the face of evil they responded firmly and resolutely to protect and serve the common good.

When Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, died, his sisters were distraught; and when Jesus showed up at Bethany some four days after the funeral, Martha reproached him: “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” At that moment, both Martha and her sister Mary felt abandoned by the Lord. And certainly, they had hard questions to ask him – as many of you might have today. Why Laura? Why now?

I do believe that Jesus can and will answer even the hardest questions we might put to him. But, to be sure, some of those answers we will not hear on this side of eternity.

Martha and Mary took Jesus to Lazarus’ tomb. There he too was caught up in their grief, and, as the Gospel tells us, “Jesus wept.” When we are in pain, isn’t there a sense in which we can say that God is also in pain? Our tears are God’s tears too. God does not abandon us in our time of suffering. God suffers with us – and as we see on Calvary, he suffers for us: in his suffering and death, our own suffering and death finds meaning.

And so, even if in our grief we ask deep in our hearts some of those same questions that Martha and Mary asked in their grief, may we also know that Jesus grieves with us, he weeps with us. He suffers with us even as he assures us, as he assured Martha: your brother will rise.

And like Martha, even in our grief, we make our own Martha’s profession of faith: “I know that they will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus tells us: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Laura believed in God. She not only lived her faith, but she shared it — with her family but also with the children she taught here at Mary, Help of Christians’ religious education program.

We too believe in God; and we believe that God made us not just to die one day. God made us to know Him, to serve Him and to love Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next. Our faith in Jesus Christ crucified yet risen from the dead gives us light even in the darkness of this day; and our hope in him, who conquered death, consoles us and strengthens us in our grief — but, nevertheless, we weep; like Jesus wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus, we weep.

We grieve and we must do so — for grieving is the pain of letting go. 

We turn to the Mother of Jesus, Mary Help of Christians. The sinless Mother of God knew grief when she stood at the foot of the cross as Jesus died. As Laura prayed — in this church, in her home, with her religion class students, with her sons, we too pray invoking her who is our help: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

On an old Irish headstone are found these words: Death leaves a heartache that no one can heal; but love leaves a memory no one can steal.

May our Merciful God console us all in our sorrow and grief; may he strengthen us and heal us our sorrow; and, as we commend to the Lord Laura, we pray that he grant her Eternal Life.