(Sermon by Bill Clarke SJ at the Funeral Mass for James in Guelph at Holy Rosary Church):
Welcome to the auxiliary Bishop, etc, etc.
I had the privilege of being in Summerside with James and his dear family for his final hours. It was truly a blessed time for all of us. James was lying face up on his bed, his breathing very laboured. We sensed that he might be hearing us but he could show no response. It was a very gentle time. There was some singing led by Rick with his guitar and Maurine with the flute, some sharing of stories and some laughter as well as times of silent communion. Several times Jim’s faith-filled mother, Kay, called us to pray. At one point Jim’s breathing became extremely faint and we knew the end was near. All the siblings were there with a few of their spouses and children. We were gathered closely around almost not breathing as each breath seemed to be his last. Then Jim very peacefully slipped through the veil into the fullness of the eternal now of love which we call God.
Fr. Roger in his opening remarks spoke of how Jim had been struggling to understand the gift of his illness and finally he discovered that gift; to know that he was loved. Now if living in such a loving family is not enough to convince someone that they are loved then one has to wonder. However, the truth of the matter is that most of us always have some resistance to believing how completely and totally we are loved. Even with those who are closest to us we often feel, yes but if they really knew me like I know myself well….The other thing is, I sense that Jim was so focused on loving others and loving the earth and everything else that he didn’t take the time to notice how much he himself was loved.
In the vigil service last night James’ brother Ron said he thought that James had come home not for any selfish reasons but as a gift to his family. I believe this is true but I think it was more than this. In that first reading; “Blessed are those whose trust is the Lord, they shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream…”
James was deeply rooted in the soil of his beloved PEI and in his beloved family. It was those deep roots that eventually drew him back home in an almost irresistible way. He certainly loved both family and the island. At almost every evening meal we would hear about one or other or both. And almost everywhere he went he would come back telling us about the islander he had met and often enough how they were related to his family. But you have to have been in PEI and spent time with his beautiful family to really appreciate how this could be.
James tried to go home to Summerside each year for a time of rest and of prayer. Sometimes he went to do a family wedding or perhaps a funeral. On so many of those occasions he would baptize one or more of his nieces or nephews and especially the grand nieces and nephews. On the several cottage properties all linked together on Mill River, James planted a tree for each one of them, 33 in all. At the offertory procession during the funeral Mass for James in Summerside each of these beautiful children and young adults carried forward a small branch from their tree. It was a moving sight to see them all processing down the aisle, some of them carried in a parents arms, not the nephew and nieces, of course, since several of them were tall enough to look down on their uncle James.
Jim had chosen the readings for this occasion. He chose them mainly because they speak to us of hope, and Jim was indeed a man of hope that inspired others to hope. His was a deep and realistic hope. He was certainly not an optimist. He could see more clearly than many of us the way we are destroying our beautiful, fragile mother Earth. He grieved the political and economic structures pushed and sustained by the multinationals and by those politicians more interested in maintaining power and blindly seeking economic progress at all cost. His hope came from his deep faith in God and in creation itself, both of which were for him almost the same reality. One of the signs of hope he especially enjoyed was the gravel pit on the Ignatius property. It had, like all gravel pits, become a desolate place but it had provided the gravel for the early construction of buildings and roads on the property. After it was closed a number of years ago, the earth regenerated itself in a beautiful way. This is a setting that Jim liked to take people to celebrate in prayer and song the beauty and goodness of the earth.
In that first reading Jeremiah speaks of the fruitfulness of that tree planted close to water, a fruitfulness that is abundant and enduring. This is our James. This is you Jim. All of us here have been abundantly nourished by you. Your life will continue to bear fruit that will last on and on and on. Thank you God. Thank you Jim.