The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jeff McCarthy's Funeral & Homily

We gave my brother, Jeff, a beautiful funeral on Saturday at my former parish on Cape Cod, Holy Trinity Parish in West Harwich. Fr. Ed Healey celebrated the Mass and I assisted and was privileged to give the homily. Four other deacons joined us in the sanctuary, something for which I am especially thankful. Three of Jeff's West Point classmates (class of 1962) also attended, including his roommate and a longtime family friend, Marsh Carter. Another classmate in attendance was General Dennis Reimer, USA (Ret), former Army Chief of Staff and good friend of my brother. But we were all particularly pleased that Jeff's son, Marshall McCarthy, was able to be with us. Marshall flew up from his home in Costa Rica and rekindled his relationships with his cousins whom he hadn't seen in 20 to 30 years. God turns all to good.

I have included my homily below for those who might be interested.

Family separations are always difficult. Those of us who spent a lifetime or two in the military certainly know what family separations are all about. Of course, some separations are greater than others.

One of my former executive officers, Captain Collie Haines, had been a POW in North Vietnam. And as we left on a nine-month cruise, Diane noticed his wife hadn’t joined the other wives and children at the pier to wave goodbye. Later she told Diane, “No, I decided not to see the ship off. The last time I did that he didn’t come home for seven years.” Yes, some separations are greater than others.

And as those families watched that ship until it could no longer be seen, someone would inevitably sigh, “Well, they’re gone.” And you know something, that’s a little like dying. Indeed, it’s a lot like dying. Except, as we sigh, “Well, Jeff’s gone,” there are other voices waiting and ready to shout happily, “There, see! Jeff’s coming. He’s coming home.”

Now I realize it’s not always easy to accept this, because as a deacon I see my share of death and the grief that follows it. It’s at these times that I’m asked all sorts of questions. So many people are afraid of death; so many worry about what lies ahead. Sometimes they’re afraid of nothingness, but with God’s help I can usually help them ease that fear. Most, though, are simply afraid of coming face to face with their lives, of encountering all those mistakes, all the hurt they caused, all that sin, and finding it too much to bear.

But Paul, in our reading from Romans provides the antidote to this fear. Yes, we will be judged; but did you notice the question Paul asks: “Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones?” You see, the wonderful thing is that Jesus Christ is on our side. That’s why Paul also says that Jesus “is at the right hand of God [and]… indeed intercedes for us.” Oh, yes, brothers and sisters, we will be judged, and all those foolish sins of ours will be evidence against us, but we’ll also have Jesus pleading our case.

Can’t you just imagine Jesus turning to the Father and saying, “Father, this is Jeff. And like every man he had his faults, but I’m pleading for him now. I want you to disregard all that weakness because I died for him. Instead of looking on his sins I’m asking you to look on his repentance, to look on me, your Son, as I die on the Cross for Jeff, paying the price for those sins of his.”

Yes, having Jesus as your defense attorney is about as good as it gets. How many lawyers do you know who will die for their clients?

Of course, we can make His job a lot easier by the way we live, by loving our God and bringing His love to one another. At the end of our reading, though, Paul lists the things that will never come between us and the love of God – among them neither life nor death. And so we’re not to worry; we’re to trust in God’s mercy, in His forgiveness, and in the love He had for us when He brought us into being.

As I mentioned earlier, Paul asks another question: “Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones?” We are God’s chosen, you know – that’s right, you and I. And it’s one of those realities we really don’t think about often enough. Imagine the difference it would make in our lives if we’d just let this truth really sink into our hearts, if we would joyfully accept that God has chosen us, that we are precious in His sight – and not just some of us, but every last one of us. He wouldn’t have created us if He didn’t love us.

I’m convinced most of us would live our lives differently if we really knew in our hearts that we are chosen by God, that God has destined so much for us. And this brings me again to those who fear death. If we’re chosen by God and precious to God, then death means nothing less than going home to a loving, merciful Father. No wonder John writes in his first letter, “In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love.”

If death simply means our loving Father is calling us, and if we know that our Father chose us from all eternity, well, then, what’s to fear? And that’s why we’re here today. We’re not here to talk about the past. We’re not here to relive Jeff’s life…No, not today. That’s something we, his family and friends, can do for years to come.

You see, this funeral Mass is first and foremost an act of worship. It’s an act of praise and thanksgiving, where we praise God for His goodness and thank Him for His love and the gift of life, the gift of eternal life. This Mass is offered in intercession for Jeff McCarthy because we Catholics believe, and we believe this with all our being, that God hears our prayers for the forgiveness of the sins of our deceased loved ones.

This isn’t a time to praise another human being; on the contrary, it’s a time to praise God; for it’s the Good News of Jesus Christ that we celebrate today…

…the Good News that lies at the very core of our faith

…the Good News that tells us the Father loves us so intensely He sent His only Son to become one of us

…so intensely He allowed His Son to die for our sins, for the sins of those who put Him to death

…so intensely that through this redeeming death He gave us the gift of eternal life.

This is what we celebrate today. We’re here to give Jeff to the Father, to thank God for Jeff’s life, and to ask the Father to grant him a new life, a life far greater than the one Jeff shared with us, an eternal life of happiness. This is something we can believe in. This is something we can all hope for.

Just look again at Luke’s description of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. As they walked from Jerusalem, they were overwhelmed with disappointment. All they could think about was how was cruel and heartless the world was. With the death of Jesus, their hopes and dreams had shattered. Do you recall what they said?

“But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel…” Yes, they had set their hopes on Jesus – well, on the Jesus they believed Him to be – but His death turned what they thought would be a glorious future into despair. And so they had left Jerusalem to return to their old lives, their lives without Jesus, lives that now seemed empty and dark.

But then they met Jesus, didn’t they? Right there on that narrow road to Emmaus. He was so different from the Jesus they had imagined, not some earthly king, not some political liberator. No, they met the real Jesus, the risen Jesus, the Jesus who had destroyed death, the Son of God, the creative Word of God who created all that is. It’s this same Jesus who walks with Jeff today, who wants to walk with each of us.

For it’s only Jesus Christ who can give us the strength to struggle on with life when our hopes have been shattered. Notice the disciples didn’t realize their hearts were on fire when they were with Jesus. No, it was only later that they realized how Jesus had changed them by His presence, changed them by Word and Eucharist.

Our hearts too should burn within us as we meet Jesus even when, like the two disciples, we don’t always recognize His presence. And believe me, He’s with each of you today, just as we pray He’s with Jeff. He’s ready to walk with you, to share your grief, to bring you hope, and turn darkness into light.

You see, brothers and sisters, He’s always ready to share your burdens. Trust me, He can handle it. He can help you carry that cross. After all He’s had a lot of experience.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

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