Farewell To A Friend

For the Indiana readership, here is the homily from today’s funeral for Charlie Simon.

Mass of Resurrection; Homily for Charles Simon; Death, November 25, 2010; Burial, November 29

 We gather today to commend to God a beloved son, father, brother, cousin, uncle, nephew and friend to many.  On behalf of Fr. Barnabas, Fr. Dennis, and the faith communities of St. Paul and St. Pius, we extend our condolences and assurances of prayer to all of you in these difficult days.

 We gather today with heavy hearts; grief stricken at Charles’ untimely and sudden departure from this life.  As we gather today, we have many questions about this mystery that death poses.  It is a question and mystery that in many ways, our culture today is unable to answer; and dare I say, even unable to cope with.  There are many responses which fall short, such as “Only the good die young.”  At face value, this sounds comforting, but it fails to recognize that many good people live to a ripe old age.  It would also tend to imply that all the rest of us are somehow “bad”.

Our grief today is real, as it should be.  Grief is a true expression of love.  It is a very physical way of expressing loss…not just of a person, Charles, but also what our relationships with him expressed – care, concern, love.  What we are doing here, right now, in this space, in this Mass of Resurrection, separates us from the secular world where grief leads only to despair, because without God, the human experience is a dead end…it leads only to the grave and nowhere else. 

 Life lived without God, and faith in Him, robs the human person of hope, motivation, meaning and purpose.  But death embraced with faith “opens us up to the broad place where life begins to expand”, (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Handing On The Faith In An Age of Disbelief, p. 23) in the person of Jesus Christ.  What we do here is one of the best things we do as Church.  We express our faith in Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. 

 The Risen Christ is the only sufficient answer to the mystery of death, because He is the only answer to the mystery of the human person; the mystery of human life.  It is only in Christ that any person finds the meaning of his or her own existence.

 And so we turn to Sacred Scripture to help us put our grief into proper perspective.  Thus, we can say with the author of the Book of Wisdom: The just man, though he die early, shall be at rest.  (Wisdom 4:7)  We can say with St. Paul that Charles’ death was not an early or untimely death, but in the eyes and plan of God, a death that occurred in the “fullness of time”.  (see Galatians 4:4)  In faith, death is not the end of life, not the end of all reality, but the birth unto true and eternal life.  Neither death, nor life…nor present things, nor future things…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:37-39)

 The loss of a loved one can be a heavy weight to bear.  It is a burden the Father knew at the death of His Son, Jesus, even though He knew the tremendous gift being given for the redemption of the world.  It is a burden Jesus knew at the death of his friend, Lazarus.  And thus, Jesus can say in the Gospel today: Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  (Mt 11:29-30)

 Once again, the message is clear; only Jesus can give us true rest for our souls, true food for our journey.  He is the only one with the living water to quench our deepest thirst; light and truth to guide our earthly journey.  He alone has conquered death and the power of sin.  He alone holds the healing balm to ease our pain.

 Our journey with Charles, and his with us, has come to an end.  We thank God for the many conversations, trips and card games, Simon fests and other parties.  We will surely miss the turn of phrase that only Charles could say, such as:  “It sure is fun fishing when you catch fish!”  or a simple “Hey ole buddy!” when he greeted us.  Most of us will miss his occasional phone calls to simply say hello and touch base.  We will miss his smile, his jokes his laugh and love for life.  He was quite the talker, so much so that very often you hardly got a word in yourself!  How many of us benefited from his helping hand and expertise in some kind of home improvement project?  Who else had such a memory for names, relationships, birthdates and phone numbers?

 I believe each of us manifests a unique image and likeness of Christ that only each of us in our own way can reveal.  A simple passage from St. Paul came to mind the other day when thinking of Charles and his disarming personality: Have the same attitude toward all.  (Romans 12:14-16)  This was one of the unique ways Charles could be Christ to others that only he could be.  The friendship and love we enjoyed and shared with Charles was Christ’s unique gift to us that only Charles could share.  That is my prayer for each of us, that we be the Christ for others, that only we can be.

 As sad as we are to say goodbye to Charles, we are called at the same time to rejoice in the expanding horizon Charles now enjoys.  We must not lose sight of our human origins, or our ultimate destiny; God’s Kingdom.  Yesterday’s Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent reminds us:  stay awake…you must be prepared…the Son of Man is coming at the time you least expect.  (Mt 24:37-44)

In a homily on the mortality of the human person, St. Cyprian reminds us of other basic truths with regards to the Kingdom of Heaven:

 Our obligation is to do God’s will, and not our own.

We are living here now as aliens and only for a time.  When the day of our homecoming puts an end to our exile, frees us from the bonds of the world, and restores us to paradise and to a kingdom, we should welcome it.

We look upon paradise as our country, and a great crowd of our loved ones awaits us there, a countless throng of parents, brothers and children longs for us to join them…O the delight of that heavenly kingdom where there is no fear of death.

 So my friends, let us grieve in faith, but let us also rejoice for Charles that his earthly journey has reached its fulfillment and he has taken up his place at the heavenly banquet, the true home of every believer.  May the remaining days of our earthly journey be a pilgrimage of faith in Jesus Christ.  May we not become to encumbered with the fleeting things of this life, remembering always our true home, with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.  May we strive to please Christ in all things, and desire always His kingdom above all else.

 Farewell ole buddy, good friend.  You are home.  Rest in peace.

Arcbishop Etienne

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