In the Gospel of John (6:37-40), Jesus boldly reveals His identity: He is the One sent by the Father. Three chapters earlier, in John 3:16, we are told of God’s love for us: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
We ask, what is Love’s mission?
Here in this passage from St. John, Jesus tells us: And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.
The 19th century Italian saint, St. Joseph Cafasso, wrote this about love: We are born to love, we live to love, and we will die to love still more.
In a sense, this saint seems to be speaking about our relationship to God’s love and His eternal desire for us: Out of love, God created us; Out of love, God sustains us; Out of love, God desires that we spend eternal life with Him. To paraphrase the words of St. Paul, “God’s love for us never ends.”
And so, on this cold afternoon, as we celebrate funeral rites for my father, Lawrence, I wanted to give you some insights into how love wove itself into his life and those around him.
But to begin, I need to go back to a different time period—-the Depression years of the 1930s. On October 3, 1937, my father was born prematurely in a small home in Detroit. At the time, the doctors didn’t offer my grandparents much hope. But my grandparents, Walter and Mary Ann, refused to give up hope and relied upon their faith and love for Jesus Christ. Eventually, their prayers led them to a monastery on Mt. Elliott Boulevard in Detroit. There, they spoke with a priest who was already well known for his deep faith and miraculous counsel. After meeting with and describing my father’s condition to Fr. Solanus Casey, they invited him to come to their home and pray for my dad. After entering my father’s room, Fr. Solanus proceeded to his crib, picked him up, and held him in the palms of his hands. After a long silence, he handed my father back to my grandparents and told them: “Your son will be alright.”
In the many decades that followed this future saint’s visit, my father was educated by the Jesuits, served in the Marines, married, raised a family, worked hard, and retired. Yes, there were certain turns for the worse, but for the most part, the love that existed in my father’s life was easily recognized. At family gatherings for Christmas and Easter. At birthday celebrations. With grandchildren at his feet. Or in helping his two sons and daughter navigate the challenges of daily life.
Throughout our lives, I think we have a tendency to look at love from one perspective. We desire to see only the shiny side of love. For those who have been married for many years, some seem eternally fixated upon the youth and touched-up photos from their wedding day rather than the wrinkles of love that have developed through the years. But in looking at things in this one way, we miss out on the totality of love- and especially, its transforming effects.
As some of you know, in early October my father suffered a stroke and endured three heart surgeries. For the past three months, his declining health also required numerous visits and stays at various hospitals and nursing facilities. In the second reading, St. Paul’s comforting words in his Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 4:14-5:1) seem especially directed toward him:
Therefore, we are not discouraged… Although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentarily light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.
During this time, something special was happening to my dad and to those around him. Each time we visited my dad, we learned something new about the transforming power of love…
We learned that being with dad and holding his hand was important.
We learned that saying “I Love You” was more important than merely thinking it.
For these past three months, not one day began or ended without my father hearing that he was loved. And in return, he began to reciprocate. Day after day, God seemed to be softening him up. On one occasion, I remember telling him that this was a very different Marine Corps than the one I had heard of. He knew exactly what I was saying—-and smiled.
Now for those who visit the sick or dying, you know that there is a daily routine of going, seeing, being, and praying. Each time, there is something new to be learned or experienced—-of love.
In mid-November, such a profound experience occurred for my wife and myself as we gathered around my father’s hospital bed. While having an otherwise ordinary conversation with my dad, his head suddenly turned upward and away from us. It seemed as though he had entered into another dimension. Quickly, my wife informed me that my father was having a conversation. With her standing at the foot of his bed and me at his side, for several minutes, we observed and listened. After awhile, my wife asked him who he was speaking with. He told her it was Fr. Solanus. She asked him: “Larry, did he say if you were staying or going?” And my dad responded: “He doesn’t know.”
On Christmas Eve, I had the opportunity to serve the first Vigil Mass. In his homily, the pastor encouraged those present to take a few minutes to think about:
The mystery of God’s love revealed and how because of it we should not be afraid…The treasure of relationships in our life….And that after thinking about them, telling those in our life how important they are, and especially, that we love them.
On Christmas morning, I left my house thinking that I would go and spend precious time with my dad. However, upon my arrival at the home where he was living, I noticed that his room door was closed. Hurriedly, a nursing assistant walked up to me and told me that my father had suddenly passed. Upon entering his room, I walked up to his bed, held his hand, and cried. But after a time, I prayed. And in my prayers I came to realize how fortunate I was that the Lord had given me a father that loved me and that in his final days, I was able to show him how much I loved him.
Later that day, a deacon friend and his wife sent me a short email that I shall forever treasure:
Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. It is comforting to know that your father was born to eternal life on the day that we remember our Savior’s birth into this life.