Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. John F. Kenny, OSFS
August 14, 2019

Our Lady of Light Chapel, Childs, Maryland
Celebrant: Fr. Lou Fiorelli, OSFS
Homilist: Fr. Bill McCandless, OSFS

The Book of Lamentations can seem so depressing and deprived of hope. This is certainly understandable when one considers it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Why would we choose to read from such a book in a funeral mass to celebrate our brother John passing from this life to his eternal glory?

I think it is an important reading because it is a true reflection of what the Israelites were feeling and a true reflection of what we all sometimes experience in this life. It’s reality, and it is not always easy to face. This was the case for John, especially in these past few years when his health was failing.

The last heart-to-heart conversation I had with John was two days before he died. I was walking down the corridor as he sat on his scooter at the door to his room. He looked distressed. I said, “Are you ok, John?” He responded, “I’m mad at Jesus” and he began to cry. What a heartbreaking expression of lamentation.

John was upset because he was feeling so weak, he was losing his eyesight and was just tired; physically, emotionally and spiritually. He was mad at Jesus, not because he was looking to be cured of these afflictions, but because he wanted Jesus to come take him home. He thought maybe Jesus didn’t want him.

I don’t tell you these things to make you sad or to feel sorry for John. As a matter of fact, I’m sure he would not have liked me to share these things at all. As anyone who knew him could tell you, John was a bit of a macho-man and not given to sentimentality. Maybe this was a result of his years of military training. However, I wanted to share these things with you because they are real, and we all feel this way from time-to-time. If that was all there was to life, then it would be sad, and we would all be lost in lamentations.

There is more to John’s story, and to the story of every Christian who truly believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s why, although we began the readings with Lamentations, we end with the Gospel of St. John. It is in this Gospel reading we heard today, and the other teachings of Christ, that we find our hopes and joys that lift us up even in the face of situations that seem hopeless.

Jesus does not want us to despair, be worried or full of anxiety. He tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” As most of us know, John did suffer from anxiety and he found great comfort in this Gospel passage. I know this because we had a lengthy conversation about this message of Christ sometime last year and we revisited it a few times since. It’s a message that is appropriate for us to hear yet again.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there where not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” And here, just as important for us to know, “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you will know the way.”

John intimately knew this Gospel and truly believed it. It was this faith that kept John going and, as St. Timothy said in the second reading, John’s belief that, “If we die with him, we also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

This word “endure” is purposely used by Timothy, and its not the only time he used it. The word “endure” was also used by St. Paul in the Letters to the Hebrews, the Thessalonians, the Colossians, and Corinthians 1 & 2. Endure was used in the Letters of St. James, St. Peter, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, as well as other passages.

John endured a lot, and let’s face it, we endured a lot from John. Father Vince Smith shared with me that his dear niece Beth, who was so faithful to her uncle, referred to John a her “quirky uncle.” Yes, yes indeed. John certainly had his human side. Sometimes this human side even spilled over into his living of the Salesian Oblate charism which is built of what we call DI-CAR-VI (directory, charity and visitation). It was particularly the third part. John was known to have more visitations with his superiors and provincials then any other Oblate. Legend has it that these visitations were filled with many spirited exchanges of ideas.

Father John was only human, as are we all. Sometimes this humanness gets in the way of our faith and spiritual beliefs. Yes, these things not only happen to priests and religious, they have also been known to happen to saints.

Two days ago, we celebrated the Feast of St. Jane de Chantal. At the celebration, our resident Salesian scholar, Father Neil Kilty, reminded us that, “throughout her life, St. Jane was never free of the sense that she was deserted and abandoned by God.” This was typical of other saints, like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Although Father John may not have been a saint, he sometimes shared this same spiritual affliction. To be fair, I think we all do at some moments in our lives. That is why the ending of today’s Gospel is so important. We see St. Thomas, “doubting Thomas,” once again questioning Jesus.

When Jesus said, “Where I am you also may be. Where I am going, you will know the way.” Thomas responded, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” This fear and doubt are common for us humans, which Christ knew well. He doesn’t try to explain his message with some intellectual discourse. Instead he simply says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” It’s like Jesus is saying, “relax and don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of everything. Just believe and follow me.”

This was the culmination of the final conversation I had with John in front of his room two days before he died. I didn’t have to say much, only listen as John came to his own conclusions. Beginning with being mad at Jesus and why, to working all the way around the circle to saying, “but I know Jesus loves me and I’m going into my room right now and pray that he will forgive me and that tell him I know he is with me. I’m going to pray that he will take me home.”

The power of prayer is a funny thing. Sometimes the Lord answers in his own time and for his own reasons, which are often a mystery to us. But last week, Jesus aligned God’s time with John’s time. Twenty-two hours after that conversation, I was with John in his room administering the last rites of anointing. Twenty minutes later, Jesus took John to where he was, and so fulfilled the promise he makes to all good people of faith. “Where I am, you also shall be.”

We commend our brother John to the Lord. We rejoice in the certain hope, as we hear in the prayers of this liturgy, that John’s life is changed, not ended. We Oblates will continue to not only pray for John, but to pray for his family which was united with ours when John professed his religious vows. We thank his nieces and nephews that are present with us today. I’m certain your uncle John is so happy to know you are here. Please assure those who couldn’t make it today of our continue prayers and support.

May God be praised!