I would like to thank the many people who have offered their prayers for the repose of my father’s soul, and for the consolation of my family. Our many wonderful family and friends have made this difficult time much easier. My father’s funeral was on Tuesday, December 27. Bishop Smith of Trenton attended in choir, and had some beautiful words to say as a remembrance after Holy Communion. I was deeply honored to have so many of my brother priests concelebrate the Mass, and many deacons. Congressman Christopher Smith, for whom my mother worked and who is (IMHO) a contemporary example of a St. Thomas Moore in how he lives his Catholic faith in his work for the public good, also attended. Writing my father’s homily was one of the more difficult things I have had to do, yet the grace of God assisted me in offering a beautiful Mass for Dad. I am posting below the homily I gave, and I hope to post in the future the wonderful “eulogies” that my niece Sydney and sister Ann Marie gave at the wake the night before.
Funeral Homily for My Father,
John S. Garrett
December 27, 2005
At a time like this there are so many different emotions that we might be feeling – sorrow and sadness, confusion, loss, and even maybe some anger. These are the emotions of grief that we all experience, in our own ways, after the death of a loved one, whether for a husband, a father, brother, grandfather, uncle, friend, or co-worker.
We see in the Gospel reading chosen for this Mass that the emotions of grief have not changed all that much over the years. In the Gospel we encounter Martha and Mary, grieving over the death of their brother Lazarus. Mary, so overcome with sadness, stays at home with the many friends who have come to support her in her time of grief. Martha, in hearing that Jesus has come, goes out to meet Him. In offering His consolation to Martha, Jesus tells her that He is the Resurrection and the Life, and assures her that anyone who believes in Him will not suffer eternal death. Jesus then turns to Martha, I am certain looking her right in the eyes with love in His, and asks her, “Do you believe this?”
“Do you believe this?” This is the question that Jesus continues to ask His disciples now, as they too face the grief of the death of a loved one. What do we believe? Do we truly believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life? Do we take comfort in Him? Do we place our hope in Him and His promise of eternal life? Of course the belief, the faith that Jesus asks of us is not a mere intellectual assent to His teaching. Rather Jesus asks us for a living Faith – one of action.
While there are many things for which I am thankful to my father for, the one for which I am most grateful is the gift of handing on to me a living Faith in Christ Jesus. Dad was a doer, and not just in his being a hard worker for his family. Dad lived actively his Faith in Jesus Christ.
I remember Dad living his faith in his commitment to the Pro-Life movement. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of going to Washington for the Pro-Life March, no matter how cold it was. I remember praying as a family the Rosary for a greater respect of human life. Dad lived out his respect of God’s gift of human life in working, with his brother Knights, at the soup kitchen in Trenton, visiting the retired veterans, and collecting for the Special Olympics.
Of course Dad lived his faith through his involvement in the Knights of Columbus. As a Past Faithful Navigator of the Fourth Degree, member of the color guard, and serving three times as Grand Knight of his council, Dad believed firmly in the value of the Knights of Columbus in promoting the best virtues of Christian manhood. Whether it was marching in a parade, selling Tootsie Rolls for the developmentally disabled, working picnics, Christmas parties, helping with free-throw competitions, or just hanging out with his fellow ROMEOs – that is “Retired Old Men Eating Out” – Dad could always be counted on to assist his brother Knights in any way he could.
The central way that Dad lived out his faith in Christ Jesus was the Mass. The Second Vatican Council describes the Mass as the source and summit of all the activities of the Church, and the Mass was certainly that for Dad. Of course there was the regular attendance at Sunday Mass, but Dad wanted to live out the Mass in his life. He was very honored to have been one of the first Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion here at St. Raphael’s, not only at Mass but also to take our Lord to the infirmed at the hospital. Even when he became less able to assist as an Extraordinary Minister, he never resigned from it because he hoped to return to that ministry. After his retirement Dad took great joy in going to Mass nearly every day. In fact one of the most distressing things to him about his final illness was that he could not attend Mass. I know that he appreciated it so much when I was able to come home and celebrate Mass for him and Mom in our living room.
How truly beautiful was his last day of earthly life. His family, whom he loved so much, was able to gather around him and tell him how much they loved him. When I arrived that day, I celebrated the Mass in his room with my family around him. The Gospel that day proclaimed the account of the Annunciation. How appropriate since Dad was born of the feast of the Annunciation. I gave my Dad Viaticum, anointed him, and gave him the Apostolic Pardon. About an hour later Dad died, the last nourishment he received on earth was the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus in the Eucharist.
Jesus came to His friends Martha and Mary in their grief over the death of their brother Lazarus, and comforted them with His promise of Eternal Life. Just a few lines after the passage we heard today we hear that as Jesus approached the tomb of Lazarus He wept. Jesus, in sharing our human nature shares our human emotions. As the Eternal Word, Jesus continues to come to His friends, His disciples, in the midst of their sorrows. He is with us now as we mourn the death of my father. Jesus is here with us, offering us His words of consolation, His words of Hope in Eternal Life with Him. Do we believe this?