Monday, April 21, 2014

Homily: Requiem for Dwight Otto: 2014

May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercies of God rest in peace: may light perpetual shine on them.

Dwight Otto loved and was loved fiercely. That is the all the eulogy I can give. There is nothing greater to say about a man than that. Most of you know exactly what I am talking about. In any case he is now deaf to our praise, but not to our love.

For we have come not to praise him but to pray and offer the holy Sacrifice for him.  Which is exactly what he would want.  How do I know that? Well, for years and more so of late he asked again and again for me to pray for departed family and friends. If you had asked him, why do you pray for the dead, he probably would have simply said “because the Church has always done so.”   I cannot improve on that answer. And if you had asked him, how exactly this prayer for the dead business works, I doubt he could have told you. Neither can I. Anymore than I can tell you exactly how prayer for the living works. The only answer I know of and the only theological opinion on the subject worth repeating is that of St. Thomas Aquinas: God ‘unmoved, all motion’s source’, the source of all things, from whom alone comes all good things, nonetheless makes us secondary causes and wills that at least some things be caused by our prayers. Even St. Thomas does not dare to say more.

Actually it is much easier to pray for the dead than to pray for the living. The problem with the living is that we never really know what we should ask for them. Most folks who pray a bunch end up just saying the person’s name and asking God to work his will in X or Y or Z. Otherwise you are like the kid who not only asks God for a pony but a spotted pony with a silver saddle who will eventually win the Triple Crown. Or even more likely with adults:  Lord, why don’t you straighten out so and so according to my notions of what he should be or do.

But in the case of the departed we just say over and over again: “May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercies of God rest in peace: may light perpetual shine on them.” Rest, Light and Peace are what we want for the dead and we can be sure that this is what God wants for them as well.

So, first of all, we pray for rest. It doesn’t really sound too exciting, I suppose. I once visited regularly an older lady who took her time dying and she used to tell me “Father, do not pray that I rest in peace, when I die, because I have already rested more than enough.” But St. Augustine gives us a better idea of what ‘rest’ is in his famous words: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. Resting in Christ is not a matter of doing something or not doing something. St. Augustine says of God himself that he is semper quietus, semper agens, that is,  ‘always at rest, always active’. Restlessness, distraction, and busyness is the lot of the living; but what we want for Dwight is just what God made him for, not only for us, but for God himself.

That is why we pray for light: that Dwight might see things more clearly than is possible in the darkness here. The living are constantly trying to figure out their priorities: God, neighbor, family, friends, work all vie for our attention. Understandably we imagine that God does not mind coming at the bottom of the list and of course he doesn’t. But if only we could see more clearly we would mind. Divine judgment is simply seeing God and ourselves with all the lights on. The choice is no longer God and all those God has given me responsibility for but the much more worrisome choice between God and myself. 

Finally, we pray for peace, perhaps the hardest of our petitions to understand, because it is, as the Prayer Book puts it, ‘the peace which passeth all understanding.’ It is simple enough to see what has to happen, if we are to acquire this peace. With all the lights on we have to choose God. The difficulty is that choosing God can mean many different things to different people. Dante in the Paradisio describes the choice of God which leads to heaven: His will is our peace. We cannot expect in this life to know exactly what that kind of peace feels like but we can know what it takes to get that peace. Dom Hubert van Zeller says it best: “when the saint says ‘I choose God’ he is really saying ‘I am not going to choose anymore: my happiness consists in letting God choose.’ My will is to do the will of Him who sent me. I live, not now I, but Christ lives in me. I choose, not now I, but Christ chooses for me.”

“Of your charity” we say “pray for the faithful departed.” But it is not a charity which gets you much recognition, a plaque on the wall. It is not a prayer the results you can see and of which you can  be proud. It is has only one motivation, that of love. Fierce love.
May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercies of God rest in peace: may light perpetual shine on them.

No comments: