The photo above is a final caress by Mom's great-grandson Asher, not long before her death.
I suppose I am prejudiced in the matter, but my mother's funeral liturgies – both Vespers last night and the funeral Mass this morning – were entirely, absolutely glorious. I am too drained to even start to thank those who attended and planned it, but I thought I'd post my own remarks at the Final Commendation below.
After I use Archbishop Miller's homily as the basis for my own at a small family celebration in Toronto this week (we will lay Mom to rest beside my Dad in the family plot in Hamilton), I will post that as well.
My first assignment after ordination was to St. Patrick’s Parish in Vancouver. I had barely unpacked before I heard about Msgr. Louis Forget, who had been the pastor there for nearly 45 years. He had been dead for more than twenty years, but the people still talked about him often.
The first thing I learned was that Msgr. Forget had inspired more than one hundred young men and women to enter seminaries and convents. I resolved then and there to do my best to imitate him by promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Can’t say I’ve been quite as successful – my record is still in single digits (though there’s still time!)
The second thing was that Msgr. Forget regularly cried from the pulpit. I thought that was really weird – a monsignor crying in public. Can you imagine!
Being unable to speak when I’m emotional is a pretty serious occupational handicap, no more so than today. But like many other handicaps, it has an upside. It justified my imposing on the Archbishop to preach today, in the midst of one of his busiest times.
Archbishop Michael, I am deeply grateful to you for having presided at the funerals of both my parents. I did preach at Dad’s, but only because – for some unknown reason – he asked me to. Mom didn’t ask, so I didn’t preach.
I’m also grateful to Father Jeff Thompson for preaching last night. He has only been with us at Christ the Redeemer since July, but my mother liked him immediately. In one of their first conversations, which he related last night, she said brightly, “I hear you like martinis” and he replied, “I certainly do – I live for Friday nights.” To which she responded, “And I live for 4:30.”
Needless to say, I am deeply touched to see my dear friend Bishop David Monroe and so many brother priests and deacons along with the wives of many of our permanent deacons.
And thank you all for sharing this beautiful but painful time with our family. I wish I could express my gratitude to all those who have made this liturgy and this church so beautiful today. But if I try, things will go downhill fast. I will try to put some thoughts in writing in due course.
Speaking of which, I do hope you will look at the few words at the back of your Mass booklet, which include a brief summary of my mother’s final days. I mentioned that I’ve tried to follow Msgr. Forget’s example in promoting vocations, particularly to the priesthood. Well, as most of you know, my life as a priest has been indescribably happy, but had it been entirely miserable, my final 48 hours with my mother would have been more than enough to make these 33 years well worth it.
I hope every young man in church, and everyone who reads my words on the Internet considers the amazing blessings a priest can bring his family in return for the blessings they have brought to him.
To the mothers and grandmothers in the congregation this morning: Did you like this funeral? Well, there’s only one way to get one like it! [They got the point—to have a son a priest—and the church rocked with laughter.]
And back to Msgr. Forget’s tendency to weep: no one should, for a moment, interpret my strong emotions today, or those of my siblings, mainly as grief. They are not. It’s gratitude, not grief, that bring our tears.
My family and I are filled with gratitude – for my mother, for our friends and hers, and for those wonderful doctors, nurses, and caregivers that helped her reach the end of her life with such dignity and comfort.
As Father Jeff said last night, this glorious Eucharistic liturgy is but a foretaste of what Mom has inherited as a reward of faith and a faithful life. We conclude now with a beautiful Rite of Final Commendation. It draws our attention to powerful symbols, including the Easter Candle at the head of the casket and the baptismal robe that drapes it. We use holy water as a reminder of baptism. And we normally use incense, a symbol of the prayers of God’s people rising before his throne in heaven.
But not today. Towards the end of her life, I thought Mom might bring up the subject of her funeral. She didn’t. So the only wish I had to honour was a lighthearted promise I made to her many years ago. For some unknown reason, she really disliked incense, which led me to promise more than once that there would be none at her funeral. I’m keeping that promise today!