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!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Larry Krupa, R.I.P. -- Funeral Homily

I lost a friend this week. He wasn't really a close friend. He and I didn't hang out together or socialize. In fact our relationship was pretty much limited to our fairly frequent interactions at our parish and occasional phone calls. He was a reader at Mass, an usher, and a minister to the sick. He assisted at our parish's resale shop. He was a faithful member of one of our scripture study groups. And I'm sure he did much more for the parish and community that I didn't know about. But I still considered him a friend. His name was Larry Krupa.

Not long after my assignment to our parish nine years ago, I began to facilitate a weekly scripture study. We actually started two study groups, one in the morning and a second in the evening. Larry and his wife, Peg, were among the first to join the evening session. It didn't take me long to realize that with Larry I had a gem. An intelligent, curious and spiritually mature man, Larry's lived faith and deep humility enabled him to offer many remarkable insights during those weekly sessions. And so, whenever I couldn't be there to facilitate a session, I would call Larry and ask him to fill in for me. He always said yes. What a joy he was.

Some months ago Larry was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and despite a grueling regimen of chemotherapy and the best efforts of his physicians, Larry died this past Sunday. As I arrived for the 3 p.m. Mass that day, I noticed Peg in one of the pews and spent a few moments with her. And then during the Prayers of the Faithful I made a point of including Larry among the intentions. As I later discovered, Larry died during that Mass.

I was honored to be asked to preach at his funeral yesterday, and have included my homily here:


Readings: Job 19:23-27; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 1:1-5

Peg, I join Father Peter, my brother deacons, and the entire St. Vincent de Paul Parish family, in offering you and Larry’s family our sincerest sympathy. And God’s peace also to all of Larry’s friends gathered here today.

Those of us who knew Larry will miss him terribly. His death has left a hole in our hearts. Although we will never forget him, over time the hurt will lessen as we await the day when we meet him again. Yes, today, it’s for ourselves that we grieve; because when it comes to Larry, we’re filled with hope.

Each of us here today knew Larry, but in a sense we each knew a different Larry, one seen through different sets of eyes. But If I had to describe the Larry I knew in just a few words, I’d simply say humble, hopeful, faithful – and especially faithful, in every sense of the word.

One verse in our first reading from the Book of Job brought me back to my last visit with Larry, just a few hours before he returned to the Father. It’s actually the last few words of that passage:

“…my inmost being is consumed with longing.” [Job 19:27]

This was the state of Larry’s being in those last days…filled with hope, “consumed with longing.” Larry was a man who knew his destination, a man with complete trust in the Lord’s mercy, a man who longed to see his God…yes, he was consumed with longing. And typically, his only worldly concern was not for himself. No, it was for Peg. “I hope she’ll be OK without me,” he said. Then he gave one of those subtle smiles of his and added, “I’ll just have to ask the Lord to handle it.” And with that, he knew it would be taken care of. His faith could accept no other outcome.

So he changed the subject and said, “You look tired, Deacon. Are you doing okay?”

There he was, still suffering, knowing that his remaining time on earth could be measured in hours, not days, and he’s asking healthy me how I’m doing.

You see, brothers and sisters, this little incident, a conversation between two men in a room in a hospice…this little incident is what faith is all about. We’re so enamored of the world’s great events, the big important worldly things, that we forget it’s in the everyday meetings of one person with another, it’s in the smallness of life, where hearts are moved and lives are changed.

I’m reminded of St. Therese, the Little Flower, and what is often called her “Little Way” in which the simple daily acts of life become a movement of the heart, a glance toward Heaven, a cry of gratitude and love in times of both trial and joy.

Larry in his humility didn’t know it, but he had taught me much over the years, and he continued teaching right up to the end.

Larry knew that faith must always be shared. Faith must be a reaching outward from our innermost being to others. It must be a living faith, a faith alive in Jesus Christ, not something that we lock up in some interior closet, or display on a shelf like a trophy. No, true faith must be put into practice; it must be lived. And to bring our faith to life, we must first turn away from ourselves and turn to others. That’s where the humility comes in.

My father used to say, “Humility’s a very strange commodity, because once you know you have it, you just lost it.”

Larry didn’t know he had it.

And the rest of us? Well, we struggle with this because we find it so hard to humble ourselves in imitation of Jesus, our God who lowered Himself beyond imagining for our sake. Then we hear the words of our 2nd reading, from the First Letter of John:

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” [1 Jn 3:1]

…and we realize that we are mere children. Despite all our sophistication, our pride in our human accomplishments, the esteem and recognition of others, despite our loss of innocence, despite it all, we remain in the eyes of God just children. The shock of this recognition can drive us to our knees in humility and faith, as we suddenly realize how deeply God loves us.

The Good News, then, becomes something tangible, something so wondrous we are compelled to proclaim it to others. This is how Larry, despite the pain and the suffering, could look at me with joy after I blessed him that last day.

You see, in its outward expression, faith is never grim, but always joyful. For faith is God’s perfect gift, a gift offered to each one of us, the only gift that truly keeps on giving and, as C. S. Lewis said, leaves us continually surprised by joy. Larry suffered much during those last weeks and months of his earthly life; and yet whenever I met with him he surprised me with his joyful, loving heart.

Faith, you see, must not only be shared, it must also be manifested in love. It compels us to take the Father’s love and share it, to spread it around like seed, letting it fall on every kind of soil.

Larry was my second-in-command at our weekly evening Bible Study, and I was always recommending books for him to read. Some time ago I suggested he check out some of the mystical works of St. John of the Cross. One evening after our Bible Study, he come up to me excited about something he had read, and he quoted the mystic’s words:

“In the evening of life we will be judged on love.”

“I’ve been thinking about these words a lot,” he said, “What do you think?”

Well, I gave him some shallow, off-the-cuff answer and then, thinking the better of it, referred him to the description of the last judgment in Matthew 25. For it’s there we discover that the test of love is to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to make a place in our hearts for the forgotten, the rejected, the abandoned.

We first experience the depth of God's love at baptism, when, as St. Paul tells us, we are plunged into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And after this vital first lesson we spend the rest of our lives trying to learn its truth.

Some people, like Larry, are wonderfully quick at picking it up. Most of us, though, are slow learners. Some of us don't fully comprehend the seriousness of the absence of love in our lives. We might not recognize this omission as sinful, and often there’s a hardness to us. Sometimes we believe that being lavish in sharing love with others will cost too much. Sometimes we’re simply afraid to love.

Yes, “in the evening of life we will be judged on love.”

Well, as Larry and I talked and prayed together Saturday afternoon I threw that quote back at him and said, “I think you’ve loved much, Larry. Don’t sweat the judgment.” He just smiled and said, “Yeah, thanks.”

Before I left we talked a bit about heaven. I suggested that our eternal joy will come more from within than without. In other words, it’s not so much our surroundings that will change – although they certainly will – rather it’s we who will be changed.

How did John put it in our first reading?

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is.” [1 Jn 3:2]

Did you catch that revelation, that promise? “…we shall be like Him.” Could we possibly ask for anything more than this?

And so, as we take our leave from Larry today, let’s lift up our hearts, prayerfully confident that his suffering has been replaced with a joy beyond our imagining. Yes, brothers and sisters, the light will shine dispelling the darkness of death, for the darkness has not overcome it. [Jn 1:5]

God love you.

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