Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Bro. Thomas P. Brophy, OSFS
December 22, 2018

“None of us lives as his own master, and none of us dies as his own master. While we live we are responsible to the Lord; when we die we die as his servants. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

This the essence of obedience. And just to be clear, obedience is not simply doing what you’re told to do. In the Salesian tradition, obedience is the art and science of listening. Specifically, listening for the voice of the Lord in the simple, ordinary events of everyday life, and having the courage to say “yes” to that voice.

Bro. Tom’s personnel file is a testimony to a life dedicated to the practice obedience. It is filled with letter after letter in which this provincial or that provincial assigned him to this community or to that apostolate. Throughout his life as an Oblate, Bro. Tom never questioned his latest transfer. Tom went wherever he was asked to go – he said “yes” to the voice of the Lord wherever it sent him. And time after time after time, the voice of the Lord was asking Tom to serve the needs of others in simple, ordinary and everyday ways.

Bro. Tom knew his way around a kitchen. He knew his way around a supermarket. He knew his way around a balance sheet and a check book. He knew his way around a print shop. He knew his way around a library. He knew his way around a retreat center. Primarily, Bro. Tom served the needs of others through manual labor, a ministry highly praised by our founder, Blessed Louis Brisson.

Father Brisson observed:

“We reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything. Our Lord came upon earth and spent thirty years engaged in manual labor. His labor was not intellectual, even though he was the Light which enlivens every person coming into the world. It is precisely because he was a working man – because he worked with his hands – that he knew the language of divine science so much elevated above human thought, the language of union with the will of God. He dignified manual labor.”

Fr. Brisson continued:

“Without a doubt some people are better equipped at working with their hands than others, but there is a place for manual labor in all our lives. There is a library to be kept in order, a helping hand to be given, some shopping to be done, a little tiding up or organizing to be accomplished…I very strongly recommend devotion to manual labor. God has attached great graces to it. All religious communities that have held manual labor in high esteem have produced great saints. Therefore, be great lovers of manual labor.”

As devoted as Bro. Tom was to meeting the needs of others throughout his life, he struggled in retirement to allow others to meet his needs. As he aged and became more dependent on the manual labor of others, the voice of the Lord urged him to allow others to serve him. Frequently, he would ask, “Why won’t God just take me?” When asked the next day if he still wanted God to take him, Tom would reply: “That was yesterday.”

The power of the present moment.

Allowing others to do for him was perhaps the greatest challenge of all. But now, I pray that Tom is in a place where God himself will meet Bro. Toms needs – and allow Tom to rest from his labors – for all eternity.

We honor Bro. Tom’s life by following his example – by rolling up our sleeves and doing what we can in ordinary, everyday ways to continue Jesus’ saving work in our little corners of the world. As St. Francis de Sales challenges us, let us dedicate our hands to the service of others. Let us listen for the voice of the Lord who invites us each and every day to do perform simple, good works with great love. Likewise, let us also listen to the voice of the same Lord who invites us to allow others to perform good works with great love for us.

Together, we pray through the intercession of Bro. Tom that just today we might reprint the Gospel by working to meet the needs of one another.