Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A funeral homily for Tim Smith

All of us probably have mixed emotions today.  We are glad that Tim's suffering is over.  But, we have also lost a father, a brother, a grandfather, a great grandfather, a friend.  And we realize that we won't have Tim to talk with, drink with, argue with, or just to hang out with.  This funeral mass is intended to help us let go of Tim and to pray for him.  
I met Tim at our Christ Renews His Parish men's retreat last September.  He could barely breathe.  He was scheduled to have chemotherapy the next week, which he wasn't looking forward to.  He was physically, mentally, and spiritually down.
Over that weekend, Tim's spirits were lifted.  He went to confession and communion.  He also connected with a group of men who would continue to support him for the next nine months.  And over the next few months as his condition deteriorated, he reconnected with his family. 
When Tim decided to attend this retreat, he wasn't regularly attending church and he didn't have any close friends in the parish.  But, in late August, he ran into someone he had worked with many years earlier.  Led by the Holy Spirit, she asked Tim to attend the upcoming weekend.  And, surprisingly, he accepted. 
Jesus, in his great love for us, is always calling us to him.  Even if we have drifted away from him, he still continues to call us back.  Often, we either don't recognize the call or ignore it.  Sometimes, like with Tim, we accept the call and he is waiting for us with open arms.
Today's mass is meant to be joyful and happy.  Now, a funeral mass might seem like a strange place to talk about joy and happiness.  But, if we truly believe in eternal life, then this is the perfect setting to speak of happiness. Death for those who are following Jesus isn’t meant to be a sad event.  Instead, it is a transition from the trials and suffering of this life to eternal joy with Jesus in heaven.
The Latin word for blessed in today’s Gospel, can also be translated as ‘happy’.   So, Jesus is telling us nine different ways to be happy.  He says: “Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meek, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, happy are the merciful, happy are the pure in heart, happy are the peacemakers, happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and happy are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely in my account.”
Some of these ways to be happy are not what we would expect.  To understand this teaching of Jesus, these beatitudes, we need to better understand what happiness is.  Today, many associate happiness with “having a good time” that is, pleasure or comfort.  But, long term happiness is spiritual and moral and not emotional and pleasurable.   The saints in heaven are supremely happy, because they’re with God, the source of all happiness.  Happiness, then, is joyful, flowing from the love of God.  The one thing we all desire is joy.  Jesus tells us in the beatitudes how to find true joy and happiness.   
Happiness in heaven is what we all are striving for, but we might not realize it.  We might look for happiness in the things of this world, like money or power or pleasure or honor.  But, eventually, even if we achieve some of these things, we come to realize that they only satisfy us for a short time and then we look for more.  Ultimately, we are looking for the joy which only God can offer us.
As I talked to Tim over the last few months, I was always impressed that he seemed at peace with his suffering.  He didn't complain that his lungs were a mess.  Instead, he appreciated the time that he was able to spend with family and friends before his rapidly approaching death.   Last Saturday, on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Tim's trials and suffering came to an end.   Now, he has transitioned from the trials of this life to eternal life.   
For Tim, this is a joyful day.  His pain from his disease is over.  His time of trial on this earth has ended.  The suffering that he endured over the last few months likely gave him a ticket straight to heaven.  And he is probably giving direction to some angels right now. 
All of us are dying.  For some, death will come in days or months.  For most, it will be many years.  We all will take this journey from life through death to everlasting life or everlasting death.   Even Jesus, the Son of God, made this journey.  Out of love for us, he came to earth just like us and died like we all must die.  Jesus death and resurrection provide hope and consolation to all of us.  He has shown us the way to everlasting life. 

I pray that we will bear our trials and suffering with grace and perseverance as Tim did. I pray that all of us here and especially Chris, Melissa, and Kathleen will find hope and courage during this difficult time. And I pray that we all will experience God’s love and will find true joy and happiness in this life and in eternal life.