21 January 2017

Homily for the Funeral Mass of Richard Deters - 21 January 2017

Funeral for Richard Deters

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we gather today to mourn the loss of Richard and to pray for the repose of his soul, Saint Paul says to us, as he said to Saint Timothy, “remember Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 2:8). These words remind us, perhaps starkly, that today is not about us – nor is it fundamentally about Richard – but about Jesus Christ and his love for us. Living as we do in an age which is all about remembering people and experiences, these words of the Apostle ought to at least catch us a bit off guard.

Regrettably, when most people think about Jesus, they first think of him as a nice man who went about doing good and being kind to those he met; they tend to think of him simply as a good teacher (cf. Luke 18:18). While this image of Jesus is not altogether incorrect, it is also quite incomplete. Whenever we think of Jesus Christ, we should remember – more than anything else – that he is the enfleshment of divine love “who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Saint Paul calls us, then, to remember the love which God manifests for us in Christ. Because he first loved us, “the Son of God appeared … to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). He became flesh within the womb of the Virgin Mary, was born at Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger (cf. Luke 1:31; 2:7). He taught in the synagogues and in public, calling everyone to repentance (cf. Mark 1:14). He forgave sins, healed the sick, cast out demons, and restored the dead to life. For all of this, he was condemned and willingly accepted death, “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). This is why Saint Peter tells us:

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (I Peter 2:23-25).

His death on the Cross was not the end, for “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and … appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve” and then “to more than five hundred brethren at one time” (I Corinthians 15:4-6). “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus ever knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

If we keep the admonition of Saint Paul to “remember Jesus Christ,” we remember all of this. This is why Saint Augustine encourages us, saying, “Let us believe in Christ crucified; but in him as the one who rose again on the third day.”[1] Because of his hope in the Resurrection of the dead, Saint Paul bore “with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory” (II Timothy 2:10).

When Saint Paul tells the young Bishop Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ,” he does not intend that Timothy merely think back upon the life of Jesus, as we might do when looking through photographs. Rather, he instructs his young son in the faith to fix his attention upon Jesus; Paul calls Timothy to “an activation of faith in the mystery.”[2] We, too, are called to an activation of faith in the mystery of Crucified and Risen Love. It is a mystery, we might say, of two parts, the mystery of death and the mystery of life.

The mystery of death is all around us, even as we try daily to ignore it, to disguise it, or even to run from it. In the end, none of us can escape it, but this does not mean that we should live without hope. How, then, should the Christian respond to death?

We might say that this mystery revolves around the fact that “Christ reigns from the Cross and, with his arms open wide, he embraces all people of the world and draws them into unity,” into the unity of his merciful love.[3] This is why, gathered here at the altar of the Lord where the mystery of the Lord’s Cross is renewed in the mystery of the Eucharist, we have come to ask the Lord Jesus to find Richard, who was tried in the furnace of this life, “worthy of himself” (cf. Wisdom 3:6; 5). We implore the Crucified and Risen Lord to stretch out his hand to Richard and draw him into his pierced side that he might make his abode within his Sacred Heart and “abide with him in love” (Wisdom 3:9).

We respond with faith in God, with a gaze of firm hope founded on the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, death opens to life, to eternal life, which is not an infinite duplicate of the present time, but something completely new. Faith tells us that the true immortality for which we hope is not an idea, a concept, but a relationship of full communion with the living God: it is resting in his hands, in his love, and becoming in him one with all the brothers and sisters that he has created and redeemed, with all Creation. Our hope, then, lies in the love of God that shines resplendent from the Cross of Christ who lets Jesus’ words to the good thief: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) resound in our heart. This is life in its fullness: life in God; a life of which we now have only a glimpse as one sees blue sky through fog.[4]

So it is that the mystery of death and of life are bound together in Christ. The Christian who has remained faithful to Christ need not fear death; rather, because our hope is “full of immortality,” the Christian can instead raise his eyes to Christ to see in them a look of tender love because he has already died and risen with him in the saving waters of Baptism (Wisdom 3:4; cf. Romans 6:3; I Peter 3:21).

Still, the question of suffering remains. What purpose has it in this life and why does it so accompany death? It has been said that

there are two ways a Christian … can promote the gospel and the kingdom: by work and by suffering. And who is to say that work is more effective than suffering, if suffering is one’s call and is borne in union with Christ? It is part of the mystery that Jesus redeemed the world ultimately not by preaching, teaching, and healing, but by suffering unto death.[5]

The Lord Jesus extends his hand to each us each day, inviting us to take it and be swept up into the mystery of his love. If we take his hand and offer our sufferings lovingly in union with his, he can use them to effect the mystery of his Cross. What is more, through these sufferings, through our union with his Cross, we “shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble” because Jesus is no longer in the tomb, “but he has been raised” (Wisdom 3:7; Luke 24:6).

With this confidence, then, we commend our brother Richard into the strong and loving hand of the Lord Jesus, trusting in the promise that “if we have died with him, we shall also live with him” (II Timothy 2:11). As we remember Jesus, may he remember Richard. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 234.3. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Vol. IX: Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. Peter Gorday, et al, ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2000), 243.
[2] George T. Montague, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: First and Second Timothy, Titus. Peter S. Williamson and Mary Healy, eds. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008), 161.
[3] Benedict XVI, Homily, 20 November 2011.
[4] Ibid., Homily, 3 November 2012.
[5] George T. Montague, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 163.

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