23 June 2009

Homily for the Funeral Liturgy for Coach K

My brothers and sisters,

May the Lord give you peace.

The death of our brother Karol has stunned us all. His death came too soon, we say; too young, he was, to die. Today we can make the words of the Psalmist our own, “I believed, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted” (Psalm 116:10). We are afflicted this night with grief, yet we have gathered here in faith, for “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).

The reality of his death reminds us of the fragility of human life and calls to mind the things that truly last: faith, which comes from and leads us to God; hope, which leads us to trust in the Lord’s mercy; and love, which binds us together in friendship with God and with one another (cf. I Corinthians 13:13).

To die doing what a man loves is a rare privilege given only to a few. Karol’s love of soccer – and of those he coached – was no secret.

Though I only knew him a short time, I am certain that he learned much about life from the sport he loved.

When he returned this summer to coach the boys at St. Anthony’s, Karol brought with him a focus on the basics of the game. On several occasions, he reminded the boys that unless they had the fundamentals of controlling the ball down, they could never hope to pull off any tricks. A match is won not with fancy footwork, but with basic skills.

The mark of a successful coach – like any teacher - is not found simply in whether his team wins often, but on the lessons he gives and impresses upon the hearts of his players. As it is with soccer, so it is with life; Coach K taught us not only about soccer, but about life, as well.

We know that our only true and lasting happiness lies in God and that the way to him is found in faithfully and fervently following after Jesus Christ. If we do not have the basics of discipleship down, we cannot hope to achieve the ultimate goal of soaring to the heights of spiritual perfection.

The basics of the Christian life – the love of God and the love of neighbor – are simple, but they are not easy. Just as the basics of controlling the soccer ball must be practiced and rehearsed so, too, must the love of God and of neighbor be practiced with dedication if they are too take root, grow and flourish. They are expressed through daily prayer and the reading of the Scriptures; through the reception of the Sacraments and the frequent confession of sins; through the genuine concern for others over and above myself and the living of a just life. These fundamentals of the Christian life, of living a good life, are most important because “each of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).

It was this focus on the basics, I think, that helped form Karol as the generous, gentle and patient man we knew and loved. It was this simplicity that drew others to him and that led to the only description I have heard of him: “He was a good man.”

We have come together today to pay our respects to this man who won our deep affection and to commend and entrust him into the hands of God. So it is with mixed emotions that we have come. We say with the sacred author,
Remembering it over and over leaves my soul downcast within me. But I will call this to mind, as my reason to have hope: the favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent. They are renewed every morning, so great is faithfulness (Lamentations 3:21-21).
We have come both in sadness and in hope, and both of these are right and good.

Only five days before he died Karol asked me which version of the Bible he should purchase because he wanted to read from the Bible every day and wanted a good and readable translation. He wanted to know the Lord better, to encounter him in the Sacred Writings and to hear his voice. We are told, “Good is the Lord to one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:25-26).

At the end of his life, Karol waited for the Lord; at the end of our lives, may each of us be found doing the same, that he who sits enthroned above all creation may say to us when we stand before the “judgment seat of God,” “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Romans 14:10; Matthew 25:34).

Let us now entrust our son, our father, our brother, coach and friend into the merciful hand of God. May the Lord receive his humble servant. May he forgive his sins and raise him up “to eternal life” to “walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living” (Matthew 25:46; Psalm 116:9).

May we, having learned from his example, likewise seek the Lord, striving always to live the authentic fundamentals of life, that we might live with our brother forever. Amen.

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