Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Homily: Requiem Mass for Tom Toland

Rest eternal grant unto him and let light perpetual shine upon him.

First a disclaimer: any resemblance between Tom Toland and St. Thomas mentioned in the Gospel  is purely coincidental. St. Thomas, you will remember, missed the Lord’s first Resurrection appearance on Easter Evening and only arrived a week later. 

Tom was not a card-caring Anglo-Catholic.  His religious views owed more to Young Life than to Fr. Blankenship or Fr. Rogers. Being completely and blissfully innocent of the protocols of ecclesiastical politics, he haunted places like Holy Cross and St. Francis and St. Michael's. Because these were the parishes which had a daily Mass. And Tom loved  the Blessed Sacrament. He loved the Mass enough to know that late was better than never. That was the secret of his virtues, his reckless generosity and his love.

I doubt that there is a single person in this Church today who does not have a Tom Toland story to tell. In the case of Nancy, Ellen, Monica, Scott, Thomas and Edward they have epic novels to write. But this is not a celebration of his life, even though there was much to celebrate in his life, maybe more than is the case with many men.  I know that is what you expect and want and I apologize for not providing it. There is and will be a time and place for that. But a Requiem Mass is not about what a man did but about what he could not do. .  I have some idea of what that might be in Tom’s case but I cannot tell you about because it is hidden under the seal of the confessional. But God knows.  In any case really we all know just because the Church’s prayer and sacrifice for the dead is impersonal, one size fits all, the final and most definitive assertion of human equality. As Fr. Rogers always reminded us, if you are one in a million, it is only because you realize that you are not one in a million. So what we want for Tom is what everyman needs and wants.

First of all, rest eternal – something which on the face of it has very little appeal to us--that thing which is so unknown in the world in which we live, that we cannot imagine what it is and why it would be desirable.  It sounds like a nap. We go on vacations so we can go to work. We take a break so we can jump back into the fray. But we are not made for work but for rest. The rest that the Church prays for the dead is the end of that restlessness which St Augustine, the Doctor of the Church on call, said can only be found in resting in God. Keep busy, we say, it will make you feel better. But it never does. We are restless not just because we are confronted endlessly with the choices between good and evil but because we are forced to chose between good and good.  We live in the wreck and collision of the demands of  family, friends, work, the needy. But the Good we are made for is the Good which is God Himself. The active life must give place to the contemplative. The hardest thing about dying.

But this is what we want for ourselves, what all men want, whether they know it or not, and what we want for Tom: Rest eternal grant unto him.

 Let light perpetual shine upon him. St. Augustine, who diagnoses our restlessness, also tells us “Faith is to believe what we do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what we believe”. The problems of every human life, the anxieties, the worries arise not from what we know but from what we do not know. We are creatures with built-in ambitions, ambitions to know more than what we can see and measure and understand. Why I am here? What is the point of it all? All it takes is looking up at all the stars on a summer’s evening, a termination notice,  a medical diagnosis of terminal cancer, the death of one we love, to revive our ambitions to know, to understand, to see. You cannot see without light and the sort of endless light which reveals all things, the divine Light.  We pray for that light to shine on Tom, that he will see what he could not see here, that he will know what he could not here, that he will understand what he could not understand here.

Still  Rest and Sight are not all we want for Tom or for ourselves. Again St. Augustine is our Hospice Doctor:

Behold what shall be in the end.
There we shall rest and see, we shall see and love, we shall love and praise.
Behold what shall be in the end and shall never end.

Rest and sight are only the conditions for the perfection of love. Rest, see and love. That is the divine order of things. It may be hard for us to imagine that there was anything lacking in Tom’s love. But if you are like me you are constantly realizing how quickly your love runs out, how short if falls, how mistaken it so often is. That is inevitably so because it is Christ Crucified who is the measuring stick, the standard of all love.

And it is that perfect love alone which casts out fear.

Funerals, we are told by the death gurus, are for the living. There is nothing we can do for the dead. But that is not what the Catholic Church believes. We pray for the holy souls and they pray for us. That is what the Communion of the Saints means or it means nothing at all. We offer for them the best we have, what Jesus has given, what the Church has always offered, pleading again and again the one perfect, sufficient sacrifice and oblation, day after day, for all men, quick and dead, that all may rest and see and love.

For everyman and for Tom.

Rest eternal grant unto him and let light perpetual shine upon him.

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