Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. John J. Dennis, OSFS
October 13, 2018

On behalf of all my Oblate confreres, I extend our prayers and sympathy to you, the family, confreres and friends of Father John Dennis.

I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who spoke these words: “It is not the years in our life that count but the life in our years.”

It’s rare that someone is fortunate enough, as Father John was, to have both many years –almost a hundred of them! –and so much life in those years as well! In his fine homily, Father Dalton has spoken well of the “life” that Father Dennis spent while on this earth. The lives of the countless people to whom he ministered throughout his long and full life are better, richer, holier because of him.

I want to speak briefly of what struck me most about the life of Father Dennis. Every Christian is expected to live Jesus in the sense of imitating the manner in which he lived among us as “one who served.” We can imitate the humility and his gentleness of Jesus, as well as his compassion and foot-washing love. But how many of us can draw near and touch and heal lepers as Jesus once did?

John Dennis did that. At a time when people with AIDS were treated by others with fear and distance, John Dennis, in imitation of Jesus, drew near to them and touched them with compassion and love. He may not have performed a healing miracle for those suffering from AIDS as Jesus once did for the lepers of his day. Still, he was the face of Jesus for them, a caring, kind, non-judgmental and loving face; a healing presence to those who at that time were largely without any hope and little promise.

A few days ago when John went home to God, I can imagine him being greeted by his parents, relatives and friends who preceded him in death. I am sure our Salesian saints were there to greet him as well. But I can also imagine that many of those “modern day lepers” were there as well. Healed now and whole, they welcomed a good man who had once drawn near to them when most others had not.

John was a gifted educator and a true renaissance man who enjoyed music and the arts. But he was much more than that. He was a man who knew what Jesus meant when He asked us to love as he himself had loved: “As I have done for you, so you must do for one another.”

John Dennis did just that!