30 March 2022

Homily for the Funeral Mass for Bradley Kastl

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

There is an ancient maxim in the Church which tells us that “the law of prayer is the law of faith.” This is another way of saying that the Church’s prayers are not mere empty words or hollow aspirations; rather, they are what the Church truly believes. And what the Church believes is always founded on the witness and testimony of the Apostles on and the writings of the Sacred Scriptures.

We prayed a moment ago that Brad might “stand with all the angels and saints, who know [God’s] love and praise [his] saving will.”[1] This belief, this hope, of the Church is founded on the promise that “the favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent” (Lamentations 3:22).

In the depth of your grief and heartache, which is not to be feared, it must surely feel as though the Lord’s mercies might be exhausted, but our faith is not founded on feelings, even as important as these are. Rather, our faith is built upon the certainty of the love of God, on the immeasurable depths of that love revealed for us in Jesus Christ. He showed his love for us in the midst of heartache and pain, in the presence of his Mother and of the Beloved Disciple because love always requires a willingness to sacrifice for the beloved.

Though I cannot pretend to share the experience of losing a spouse or a son, I do know something of the experience of grief, particularly the grief that follows after a tragic death. My father died just before my eighth birthday, and my mother died just two years later. Although not the same, the grief we experience is not altogether different. These many years since their deaths have not always been easy, but they have not been altogether unbearable, either.

As we mourn the loss of those we love so dearly, well-meaning family and friends often seek to comfort us with clich├ęs, which are generally as untrue as they are lame. Not quite willing to enter into our suffering, they turn uncomfortably to words.

We hear especially these days the adage that “time heals all wounds.” The experience of life has taught me this is quite false; time may soothe our wounds and make them easier to bear, but it does not, it cannot, entirely heal them. The full healing of our wounds can only occur where time no longer passes, in the presence of Him who died for us and still bears his wounds, the marks of his love; the full healing of our wounds can only occur in the one who calls us to find our rest in him (cf. Matthew 11:29). The bad moments will continue, but good moments will also come. Likely enough, you will come to know a joy mingled with sadness, and a sadness mingled with joy.

When your sorrow hits you hardest, when it seems hope is lost, go to the Cross. Stand or kneel in the presence of the Blessed Mother and of Saint John; they will lead you to the one who is “meek and humble of heart,” to the one in whom you will find your rest (Matthew 11:28;cf. 11:29). Look upon Christ our salvation and let his love fall down upon you and he will renew you each morning (cf. Lamentations 3:23). You will learn there anew what it means to “hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26).

In moments such as these words simply fail; all any of us can do is hold you tightly in our prayers and in our love and weep with you. Still, I wish with all my heart I had something more to say to you to offer comfort and consolation. There will long be an empty space in your hearts, an emptiness that can only be filled by Brad, but this need not lead you to despair or despondency if you place your faith in the hands of Jesus, that is, if you entrust yourselves entirely to him.

Andi, Randy, and Lorri, here I can only leave you with these words of J.R.R. Tolkien, which have long brought no small consolation to my own heart: “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”[2] In moments such as this, tears are a sign of love; do not be afraid of them. May the Lord, in his loving mercy, keep you in his grace and bring you to rejoice before him together with Brad. Amen.

[1] The Order of Christian Funerals, Prayers and Texts in Particular Circumstances: Prayers for the Dead, 28).

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, “The Grey Havens.”

26 March 2022

I am unprepared for this birthday

Today is my forty-fourth birthday and, strange as it may seem to say so, I feel woefully unprepared for this day. In about an hour I will attain the same number of years as my father when he died, which is to say that if I live another two hundred and thirteen days - and I know of no reason why I should not - I will outlive my father.

I know birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions, but today I feel very much unsettled. That is the best word I can find to describe the sort of melancholy I am experiencing today. Whatever it is I am feeling, there must be a good German word for it, but I do not know that language of compounding words.

Two years ago, when I surpassed my mother's age at the time of her death, I did not feel this way. I do not know why, but I suspect it was because it was my father who died first. I would not say I feel guilty for not feeling unsettled that day, but something like it is also affecting me today.

The experience of grief is a curious thing. I do not really know what I feel today. I am in something of a fog. No one has prepared me for this day, nor could anyone have done so. I am surely not alone in what I am feeling today (lots of others have surpassed the age of their parents), but I feel a bit alone today.

Even so, these words of J.R.R. Tolkien bring me comfort today, as they so often do:

The link between father and son is not only of the perishable flesh: it must have something of aeternitas about it. There is a place called "heaven" where the good here unfinished is completed: and where stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet... (Letter to Michael Tolkien, 9 June 1941).