Sermon preached at the memorial mass of Alice Mary Roggenkamp. February 22nd, 2015
Alice Mary Roggenkamp liked to hold on to things.
It wasn’t because she had an unhappy or an impoverished childhood, because she didn’t. Alice Mary was raised by loving parents on the upper east side of Manhattan. Her childhood was a happy one growing up around her father’s confectionary shop, and although she was an only child, she had friends and family and pets and much joy. Alice Mary held onto things because it was a part of who she was. As a woman who spent her life working as a librarian, perhaps it was her stock-in-trade, or perhaps Alice just valued things differently than we do.
For so many of us, life has a way of taking from us the things we fight so hard to hold on to. Our vocations, our possessions, our independence, even our loved ones; life has a way of stripping these things from us as we grow older. So it was with Alice Mary as well.
After losing most members of her family, retiring from her career, having to let go of her possessions and her independence, Alice Mary could seem to most of us, as a person that lost everything, but she wasn’t. The thing that Alice Mary treasured the most, then thing that gave her life the greatest joy and meaning, was the one thing that she never had to let go of; it was the thing she held onto until the end: her faith.
You see, this service that we are having here today; many of the details of this service were planned by Alice Mary herself. She was a woman who had lots of opinions, particularly about her faith, which was most important to her, so this service wouldn’t be just left to chance. As a woman who spent so much of her life working in and around the Episcopal Church, she naturally thought that her funeral should be presided over by a bishop…and a priest…and a deacon…and a monk.
Sadly, we were unable to fulfill some of those requests. But I am happy to say that we were able to include all of the music that Alice requested:
Alice wanted “I sing a song of the saints of god”, a song which for many conjures up images of Sunday School (which of course Alice Mary taught), but for her the last verse was important:
They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still, the world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’s will. You can meet them at school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.
Alice Mary meant to be a saint. She dedicated her life to cultivating holiness in herself and in others. She loved to sing about her faith, so she asked to have the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” sung because it begins with the line:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God almighty, early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Alice Mary’s song of faith did rise to God. Continually. And Alice Mary’s faith was a very traditional one. She was a member of the Guild of All Souls, an organization centered on saying requiem masses and keeping departed loved ones in prayer, which is why the color of our vestments today is the traditional black for requiem masses. Alice Mary was also associated with a number of monastic communities, specifically, the Sisters of the Holy Nativity, which is why we will be singing “Silent Night” in a few moments, and the Order of the Holy Cross, which is why we will be singing “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus, going on before.” Despite what some people often think about this song, it has nothing to do with going out into the world and fighting non-Christians. It is about fighting the spiritual fight against evil, which we are all called by our baptism to fight. It is about treading where the saints have trod; it is about knowing that we are a part of the church, over which the gates of hell cannot prevail. That was Alice Mary’s faith. She was absolutely a soldier in God’s army. She always had the cross of Jesus before her.
I was warned, by more than one person when I arrived at Ascension, that Alice Mary liked for the entire Eucharistic prayer to be said for her when you visited her. She didn’t just want a quick communion service. She wanted it all. As a member of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, communion was very important to Alice Mary. For her it was truly the body and blood of Jesus and it meant the world to her. Most of you know that just a few days ago on Ash Wednesday, Ruth and I went to visit Alice Mary, to impose the ashes on her and to giver her communion. She received the ashes, she prayed the Our Father with us, she received absolution and communion, and then a short while after we left, she passed away quietly in her sleep. Alice Mary had to let go of a lot of things in her life, but the one thing she held onto until the end, the thing she never had to let go of, was the thing that was most important to her: her faith. The one hymn that Alice Mary didn’t request, but that I included was the one we just sang: Faith of our Fathers. “Faith of our Fathers, Holy Faith, we will be true to thee till death.”
Alice Mary was true to her faith until death. So at the end of a life lived in faith and devotion, what can one say? In the commendation we say the words that “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” The last request that Alice Mary had was that we include Handel’s Halleluia Chorus in her service, so our postlude will be just that. Alice Mary had to let go of a lot in this life, but in the end she held onto the thing that mattered the most. To that what more can be said than Halleluia.