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Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.

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Jesus loved with a human heart: with him we proclaim his love to the world.

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John’s brother, Kevin, presided at the funeral Mass at Kensington on Thursday June 13th. The homily was preached by Paul Stenhouse. The funeral took place at St Mary’s Towers, Douglas Park, led by Dominic Gleeson.  Here is the text of the homily with photos by our Indonesian confrere, working in the Marshall Islands, Kristianus Fatlolon, with thanks.

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If, over the past twenty years or so, I had been asked did I think that I would be preaching the homily  at a Requiem Mass being offered for Brother John Ehlefeldt, I’d have said fairly confidently, ‘No’.   I’d imagined that I would have died before him.

Yet here I am, reflecting on the life of this extraordinary MSC brother who reached his Emmaus accompanied on the way by our Lord, in his 103rd year.

Not only was John the oldest member of our Australian province; he was the oldest member of the congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart with its 26 Provinces around the world, and I think I can truly say that he was the dear friend of all of us, down through the years.

But before saying anything else, may I call to your minds one of the foundation stones of Brother John Ehlefeldt’s Faith and life: one of the most beautiful, and moving Acts of Faith that that inimitable Saint, Paul of Tarsus, ever penned:

With God on our side who can be against us? ...  Jesus … not only died for us — he rose from the dead, and there at God's right hand he stands and pleads for us. Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked. … These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us. For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8, 31-39.

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Brother John Ehlefeldt and I first met in 1957 when I went to Croydon in Victoria from the novitiate in Douglas Park. He was, as I soon discovered, a treasure – a general factotum – He saved my life, or I thought he did,  equivalently  ……   I’d never seen a window blind, let alone put one up, being a bit of a clodhopper, and when I managed to bring one down on my head from a great height at Croydon I was sure that Father Drake would have me on the first available transport home. Brother John solved my problem and I suspect that Fr Drake – whose bark was really much worse than his bite - never learned about the blind.

John seemed to be able to do almost anything, his talents seemed limitless, and he was called upon to exercise them frequently. From milking cows, to grubbing trees, to counselling younger brothers and students, to rescuing superiors up to their axels in deep mud that they’d driven themselves into, to cooking, to nursing, to providing rooms for visitors, to caring for Father Dave Smith for many years until he died in 2000, after he broke his back at Shoreham.

We all must have our lists, and they would, doubtless, be different. But it was all done with his characteristic good humour – sometimes cryptic humour –  and a smile.

The readings for John’s Requiem Mass which I found altogether appropriate, were chosen by his brother, Father Kevin Ehlefeldt, and their two nieces Pauline and Mary both of whom are with us today.

The first reading from the book of Isaiah described God’s  wiping away the tears from every cheek – from all our cheeks – and reassures John that our God, in whom we all hope for salvation, is his Saviour.

The responsorial psalm recalls that the Lord is John’s shepherd and ours, and that he provides for all his wants, and ours.

While the Gospel of St Luke describes the disciples, and John as a Novice and as a professed Brother – he was first professed in 1935, the year I was born – on the way to his Emmaus, his heart burning within him as Jesus walked with him and explained the Scriptures for him.

In one of our side chapels here at Kensington Monastery, there is a pair of brass candlesticks donated to the Monastery by the Ehlefeldt family in 1943, five years after John’s final profession in 1938 when he was 22 years-old.

Daily Mass has been offered countless times on altars lighted by the candles borne on those candlesticks. And for the past almost 40 years those candlesticks, their candles and I, have formed a bond that will keep John’s memory fresh long after the funeral cortage leaves for Douglas Park this afternoon.

‘Here are words you may trust,’ writes St Paul to Timothy and to all of us; so let’s take them to heart and trust them

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If we died with him (through baptism and self-forgetfulness), we shall live with him. If we endure, we shall reign with him.  (2Tim 2,11ff)

So we die the way we live. The tree falls the way it leans. If we die loving God and caring for others more than for ourselves, or wanting to care more for them than for ourselves, then we can be sure that our purgatory will truly be the ante-room of heaven. Brother John has surely found the immortality to which St Paul referred, through his radical attachment to our Lord. 

To conclude, let us consider for a moment the description that St Paul gives in that same epistle to Timothy, of the person who will attain eternal rest; for that is surely a guide to the fulfilment that awaits someone like Brother John who lived to a great old age as a Brother of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

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And for us, it can become a very helpful examination of conscience: let’s see which questions we can tick off:

  1. Was he a person who was not obsessed with money and self?
  2. Was he gentle, humble and caring?
  3. Did he have love and respect for his parents?
  4. Was he a person filled with gratitude to God, piety and natural affection?
  5. Was he generous with his love?
  6. Was he kind in his words, especially of others?
  7. Was he temperate in thought and deed?
  8. Was he a friend to those in need?
  9. Was he selfless?
  10. Was he a person who put God first?
  11. Did he preserve the outward form of religion, while at the same time living by its teachings? (2 Tim 3,1ff)

To this questionnaire to which we will all be subjected on our death beds, according to St Paul, Brother John Ehlefeldt MSC could truthfully reply, ‘Yes, I tried to be all of these things. I was not perfect, but I longed to be so. I was as good a son, and brother, and religious as I could be, as kind and thoughtful a friend as I could be. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved. Amen.’

We offer our prayerful condolences to all members of the Ehlefeldt family, and their extended family and especially to Father Kevin who is the sole remaining of the four Ehlefeldt brothers.

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May John’s soul, and the souls of all our departed MSC brothers and priests, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Paul Stenhouse msc

June 13, 2019