Funeral Mass Homily
By Rev. Thomas Gariepy, C.S.C. '70
Holy Cross Parish, Easton
March 30, 2016
Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light. (Mt. 12:28-30)
This gospel reading is often proclaimed at funerals. It is usually taken to mean that the one who lived, labored, and had burdens now has gone to the Lord and has found rest. It is not a wrong reading, but an incomplete one. Could it be that our Lord meant it only for end-of-life situations? Given its place in Matthew’s gospel, the answer is “no.” Jesus had been travelling through Galilee, teaching, and curing the sick, yet he marveled at the lack of faith among the people he has encountered. But some, those whom he called “children” heard and understood. Then follows the universal call, “Come to me…”
But again, it must be asked, is that all there is to this reading? Christ invites us unto himself, and each of us at some time in our lives has believed that these words were directly addressed to him or to her. But that remains a passive reading. “Here, Jesus,” we say. “Catch!” Take my burdens and I’ll be fine. Nothing more for me to do!
All of us, however, share in the priesthood of Jesus that was conferred on us in our Baptism that was renewed on Easter Sunday. Or those, who like Fr. Bartley, were ordained priests to serve the People of God, the Body of Christ—all of us have been called to become other Christs in this world. We must learn to invite “Come unto me” and learn what it entails.
You and I can say “Come to me,” but it gets harder to say “Take my yoke,” or “Accept my burden.” No heart finds rest in us. Even though we cannot offer exactly what Christ offered, we are not empty handed or empty hearted. We can show the world at least a hint of what it means to come to Christ.
I would say that Bartley knew this and did this. Fr. Lackenmier spoke last night about his charm. No one worked a room as did Bartley. He mingled with patriarchs, popes, and presidents, but was as equally at ease among people who served or who were on the margins. But did they respond to him simply because he was so charming? Bartley never forgot that he was a priest. These encounters could be seen as encounters of and with our Lord: welcoming a stranger, encouraging the weary, or challenging the complacent. Bartley’s open-handed generosity signaled the Lord’s generosity. Or his love of the written and spoken word that opened beauty to those who read them or heard them. He was in his own artless way fulfilling the gospel.
When Jesus said “Come unto me,” it was not to find an easier life. Like all of the Gospel, when we accept the call of the Lord it becomes our call to evangelize. When you come unto Jesus, you accept his yoke and his burden. They may be light, but they are real. To evangelize in the realities of this world at this time can clearly mark one to be a fool. And it is what we are nonetheless called to do. Bartley, who was nourished by the faith he received from his parents and from all of his family, knew this and did this. If we would honor Bartley, can we learn to evangelize, to say as the Lord said, “Come unto me”? Can we learn to offer the strength, the consolation, and the mercy of God?
We acknowledge that Bartley’s last years were very difficult and the burden was heavy. He found it hard to manage his illnesses and his affairs; he found it even harder to accept management of those illnesses and affairs from those who aimed to heal and help. It was a painful mystery for us to see him—he who had invited so many to know the Lord’s mercy, found it hard to accept it from those people who wanted to offer the same to him.
Despite this dark night of the soul, Bartley knew of God’s love. In August 1969, he gave an eight-day retreat for seminarians entering our former novitiate in Bennington, Vermont. At one of his conferences, he gave each of them a hazelnut. He then read from a vision of the fourteenth-century English mystic, Julian of Norwich:
“Also in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was a round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts, and ever shall last for that God loves it. And so All-thing has the being by the love of God.
“It needeth us to have knowing of the littleness of creatures and to hold as nothing all-thing that is made, for to love and have God that is unmade. For this is the cause why we be not all in the ease of heart and soul: that we seek here rest in those things that are so little, wherein is no rest, and know not our God that is All-mighty, All-wise, All-good. For he is the very rest. God willeth to be known, and it pleases Him that we rest in him, for all that is beneath him sufficeth not us. And this is the cause why that no soul is rested till it is made nought as to all things that are made. When it is willingly made nought, for love, to love him that is all, then is it able to receive spiritual rest.”
God’s rest. Come unto me, receive the yoke and burden, and then enter into the rest of the Lord. The Lord’s rest, the Great Sabbath, is the goal of God’s people. Easter is called the great Sabbath. And now Bartley has found rest on the Lord’s Sabbath day that lasts for eternity.
Bartley concluded the retreat with the prayer that concluded Julian’s vision:
O God of goodness, give me thyself; for thou are enough to me, and I may nothing ask that is less that may be full worship to thee; and if I ask of anything that is less, ever I want—for only in thee have I all.