Homily of Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay at the Funeral of Sr Madeleine De La Croix Abou Rjeili

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We come together this morning in the spirit of our faith in the Resurrection, to bid farewell and pray for our beloved Sr. Madeleine De La Croix Abou Rjeili, and we are filled with both sorrow and gratitude. Sorrow for the loss of a remarkable soul who dedicated her life to serve God through his people, and gratitude for her five decades of service in this land especially in the field of education and the thousands of lives she touched.

In the Gospel we heard about the parable of the 10 bridesmaids, the Lord reminds us that we must always be vigilant and prepared for our meeting with Him. At midnight or at any time, we could hear a shout or a bell inviting us to meet the Lord. Death does not make an appointment in advance. Our faith in the resurrection assures us that death is not the end, but a passage to eternal life with God. For those who believe in Jesus and have lived a life of love and service to others, death is not to be feared, but rather embraced as a doorway to a new and glorious eternal existence.

Being vigilant does not mean living in anxiety and anguish either. It means living responsibly as children of God, a life of faith, service, and charity. The Lord, steadfast and patient, continually awaits our response of faith and love in the midst of our daily occupations and concerns.

And we alone can give the response to the Lord, you and me. No one can do it for us. No one can save us unless we choose to. This is the significance of the response of the wise bridesmaids to the foolish ones when the latter asked them for some of their reserve oil: “You had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves” (Matt 25:9). Our response to the Lord is personal and non-transferable. Only our own actions can serve as the oil for our lamps to light the way to meet the groom in eternal life.

Brothers and Sisters, the Kingdom of God is here. Let us keep our lamps lit with the oil of faith, fraternity and charity. This light will fill our hearts and will also shine onto those who are around us, that they may also know the joy of being in the presence of the Bridegroom.

Just like the bridesmaids who prepared their lamps and stayed vigilant for the arrival of the bridegroom, our dear Sister Madeleine de la Croix lived a life of constant preparation and watchfulness. She dedicated herself to serving the Lord with zeal and love, always ready to meet Him at any moment. It is our Christian prayer and hope that she, who was prepared in this life to meet the Lord, is welcomed to the wedding banquet for all eternity.

Born on the 16th of May 1934 in Bhamdoun – Lebanon, to an Orthodox family, Sr. Madeleine chose to become Maronite Catholic against her parents’ wishes. Entering the novitiate of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family at the age of 23, she faced considerable opposition from her family. Nevertheless, she remained steadfast in her decision, taking the name Madeleine de la Croix, meaning ‘Madeleine of the Cross’.

Her journey of service started in Lebanon, where she served in Zalka and Chekka. In 1974, Sr. Madeleine’s path brought her to Australia, where she immediately began working alongside Sister Constance Basha. Together, they founded Our Lady of Lebanon College, with very humble beginnings, on the lower level of this church, labouring day and night, placing their trust in Our Lady, patron saint of this place.

They also assisted the parish and its clergy and founded the Sodality of the Immaculate Conception at Our Lady of Lebanon.

Despite the challenges of adjusting to a new country and language, Sr. Madeleine’s determination to serve the people of God never wavered. In the early days of the school, she would personally pick up children in her own car to ensure that they received a Maronite education. And even in her final days, her dedication to the College remained unwavering, always calling Sr Irene to check on the well-being of students and staff.

Our Lord blessed their work and the College flourished, expanding to include primary and high school education and welcoming hundreds of students from the Lebanese community. In 1995, she was appointed Superior at St. Maroun’s College in Dulwich Hill, where she continued to overcome obstacles, expanding the school’s facilities and programs from Primary to also include High School.

As her health declined in her later years, Sr. Madeleine faced illness and physical limitations with remarkable patience, drawing on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for comfort. She was always surrounded by her sisters in the Congregation, caring for her and praying with her. She would tell the younger Sisters that, although she was not in active service with them anymore, her service was equally important because she was praying for each one of them and for their mission.

Sr. Madeleine’s life exemplified her namesake, carrying the Cross not only in her name but in every aspect of her life and work. She passed away on the eve of the Feast of Saint Joseph, to whom she had a great love and devotion. She would repeat the name of St Joseph and seek his intercession until her last breath.

She served the Lord in this Eparchy for over 50 years and passed away into eternal life 2 months before her 90th birthday. Sr. Madeleine’s service for over half a century has enriched our community and our Church beyond measure, and her presence will be deeply missed.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Superior General of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family, Reverend Mother Marie Antoinette Saade, who travelled from Lebanon to be here and to say a thanksgiving prayer to the Lord for the life and monastic testimony of Sr. Madeleine. Our condolences go also to Sr Elham Geagea, Counsellor of the Congregation, to all the Sisters of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family in Australia and Lebanon, as well as to the family of Sr Madeleine both in Australia and Lebanon, and to all who were touched by her life and ministry.

In her quiet humility, Sr. Madeleine never sought acknowledgment nor praise. However, we chose to honour her with an award for her service last year on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of our Eparchy. We are sure that her legacy of love, dedication, and service will endure for generations to come. We also pray to the Lord to send vocations to the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family in the likeness of Sr. Madeleine.

May we be inspired by her example to live each day in preparation for the ultimate encounter with our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who will one day come to lead us to the eternal life. Amen.