On the evening of Tuesday, June 2, Fr. Michael Whalen, CM died. A member of my local community, he had been sick for some time. One could joyfully begin to list all the talents of Fr. Whalen as a faithful priest of the Congregation. He was liturgist, musician, preacher, teacher, theologian, retreat director, and many other things. His diverse collection of friends would willingly gather to tell stories of his original and eclectic personality as revealed through his ways and his words. His regular preaching at the Miraculous Medal Novena in Philadelphia gave him an admiring and inspired audience of listeners who shared in his devotion to the Blessed Mother.
When the members of my House gathered for liturgy on Wednesday morning, we agreed to celebrate with Mike in mind. I confess to a certain distraction as we began the celebration. I still had not accepted his passing. I did not pay sufficient attention to the first reading of the day, but I perceive that the Spirit had something in mind for me in the Gospel text. It was the story of the seven brothers, and how when one died, the next needed to take responsibility for his brother’s work. The idea of the many brothers stepping up at the parting of one captured me. One could argue the interpretation of the parable told by Jesus, but its focus on the brothers continuing to carry out “the mission” seems clear enough. What was the Lord telling me about following the good example of my passing brother?
The last line of the Gospel for the day held a particular key for my instruction that both compelled and encouraged. Jesus reminded his followers of what the Lord God says to the Judeo-Christian community:
I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob. . . and the God of Mike Whalen . . .
Then, Jesus tells them and us:
He is not God of the dead but of the living.
The extraordinary celebration of Easter needs to have meaning for us always. We spend a week celebrating Easter Day and then 50 days celebrating the Easter season. At the heart of our faith rests the story of Jesus rising from the grave and conquering death forever. The news of Jesus’ resurrection moved the hearts of the earliest community from despair to hope. It must also be so for each of us. Ours is the God of life and of the living.
At the death of a brother, Jesus consoles a sister and summons belief:
Jesus told [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)
Thank you so much, Fr Pat, for such an uplifting message on a time of mourning and grief. Even I, who do not know Fr Whalen, am saddened by his passing. Yours are comforting and faith-strengthening words.
Fr Whalen himself comforts me, too, as I watch and listen to him preach this homily (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kD9F_ayYaRg&feature=youtu.be). And I pray that Jesus gives me the grace of dying a holy peaceful death, in the company of my loved ones, comforted by his Word and Sacraments, by his angels and saints, by his presence, and truly repentant, wholly trusting in him, in his love, goodness and mercy, with clear mind and without pain, able still to comfort those I’ll be leaving behind.
I pray, too, that when I come before his judgment seat, I may not wish to run away, at the sight of my sins and in the presence of his awesome holiness. Instead, may I cling to him and not let go, firmly believing in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death. Amen.
Wonderful tribute, especially that last line of the Gospel.