May my words approach what Jesus Christ and Bridget would like me to speak. May my words give you consolation and timely help.
Bridget Achenbach, 1995-2015
Last year, Bridget left home to become a freshman at UW-La Crosse. I’ve heard it said that when a young person goes off to college the experience is very different for the child and for the family. It’s much easier for the child leaving home than for the family left behind. For a young person like Bridget, this transition begins an adventure. She’s learning fascinating, new, amazing things. She’s meeting great people, making new friends. Of course, she still loves and cares about her family at home. Yet she is so happy and excited to be beginning her new life.
For her parents and siblings at home, it understandably much harder. While her life is full, they can feel an emptiness. At home, she’s not in her room. She’s not in her seat at the kitchen table. Her voice and laughter are not heard in the house. Of course, her family can still speak to her long-distance. And she is still well-aware of everything that’s going on at home. But her departure creates some degree of separation, and that’s hard, and that’s sad.
Deeply loving parents could wish that their child would never leave home. “Why couldn’t she just live here?” When their child has gone away from home they worry if she’s OK, if she’s safe, if she’s happy, if she’s staying close to the Lord. Some, despite their Christian upbringing, when faced with the free choice, choose to leave the Lord and go their own way. When Bridget went to college last year, she was not like one of those. She went from good to better. She drew even nearer to Jesus, and grew with Him.
During her Freshman year, through the UW-L Catholic Newman Center, she was involved in Bible studies, attended a five-day Catholic youth conference in Tennessee, and pilgrimaged to the March for Life. On the bus trip of that last trip she shared with friends about how Jesus was transforming her life. She said she felt closer to Him than ever before.
Last year, Bridget began going to weekday Mass, receiving our Eucharistic Lord on more than just Sundays. Why would a young person like Bridget go to daily Mass? It’s not as though popular culture promotes that kind of devotion. It’s not because anyone is required to attend Mass on a weekday. A person who goes to daily Mass resonates with the psalmist’s words:
“O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you like a dry,
weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.”
A person desires to go Mass and receive Jesus in the Eucharist frequently because one has the desire to be closer to God. And this desire is not of ourselves, but from Jesus’ desire to draw us closer to Him.
As you know, Bridget Achenbach is a remarkable woman. People who meet Bridget found her joyful and intelligent; faithful, yet approachable; pious, and yet relatable. One of Bridget’s mission trip leaders once said to himself, “I wish I had whatever she’s got.” Bridget’s past goodness and our present loss raises this troubling question: “How could Jesus allow his beloved one to be taken from us?” We echo the questioning plea of Martha and Mary to Jesus at the death of Lazarus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” What are we to make of this?
We know that Jesus never, ever commits evil. He is goodness and love incarnated. “In Him there is no darkness at all.” But we also know that Jesus refrained from intervening with some (even subtle) miracle to prevent this from happening. Why would God permit such charismatic young lady, apparently richly endowed with the Holy Spirit’s gifts, to die on Pentecost Sunday? Wouldn’t she do more good if she were left alive on earth? Wouldn’t her life be fuller if she lived on earth a full number of years?
Today we are like the disciples on the first Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday’s shock and horror yet before Easter Sunday’s glory. On Good Friday, the disciples beheld the most distressing death of their Messiah. On Holy Saturday, His followers were grieving and questioning. But on Easter Sunday, they saw the resurrection Jesus had promised. Today is like Holy Saturday because we see our loss but not God’s purposes.
Perhaps, as the Book of Wisdom says, God saw Bridget reach that perfection of soul He treasures and delivered her from this world’s wickedness to be safe with Him. Perhaps we don’t see reality with the clear vision of St. Paul, who assures us “we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.” We think of this place as home, but Scripture tells us our true home is in Heaven. Perhaps Bridget has been called to continue the Lord’s work on earth from Heaven. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the spiritual mother of all Christians, was an invaluable presence among the first Christians in early Church. But after she completed the course of her earthly life and was taken up into Heaven, Mary was able to assist more powerfully than before. In her glorified state, Mary our mother can hear and intercede on behalf of millions while loving each of us uniquely. Perhaps God has such a mission for Bridget as well. We don’t yet know the answers now—“we walk by faith, not by sight”—but we do know the Lord Jesus in whom we trust.
We are not without hope, but it’s still hard. Today is sad, but you are not alone. This place literally overflows with love for you and Bridget. In times to come, give us the gift of allowing us to give gifts of our love to you. Talk to Jesus every day. As he told us, “I am with you always.” Share with Him your true feelings and your honest thoughts. Whether it’s anger or gratitude, He wants you to tell Him. He who suffered and died among us wants to walk with you through this and through all of life. And talk to Bridget. Whether through the power of God, the mediation of angels, or a soul to soul communication that is clearer than our words on earth, she will hear you. Like going off to college, Bridget is beginning a new life. But she still loves you and will enjoy hearing from you.
Our God is good. Jesus Christ is here. Bridget is loved, and she is at peace.