St. Patrick Catholic Church
September 16, 2022
As most of you know, I am Deacon Bob Yerhot, and John and Betty are parishioners of St. Patrick’s. About six or seven years ago, I was assigned to St. Patrick’s and one of the privileges I have had was getting to know them. In fact, last week I shared a meal with them at Saxon Hall. It will be a lasting memory.
I was there at their home shortly after his death. I saw their love and affection for John. I saw their faith. I listened to Betty and their children describe John. I heard things like: happy, family leader, story-teller, honest and forthright, grandpa, dad, wonderful husband, a man of faith, fiercely Irish, prayer leader, a man who insisted the family attending Mass, and getting lost in Savannah, Georgia, trying to get his family to a Catholic church on Sunday. I understand he had an Irish buckle that had some mysterious powers! Certainly, my own experience of John confirms his strong Catholic faith. He inspired me to a deeper faith in God and greater service to St. Patrick’s parish.
Here is how I, in a spiritual sense, experienced John: he was a gift-giver. He gave gifts to others and then supported those to whom he had given the gifts. He willed the good of others, which is the real definition of love. Once John gave a gift, he never took it back, but nourished it as best he could. He sustained the lives of his wife and their children. He knew God had given them life, and he sustained it. He was like God in that way.
The gift of life, once given by God, is not taken back. God is not the author of death. He transforms death into life. Indeed, though it may seem absent to us, snatched from our very midst, taken from us someday, and taken from those whom we love and admire, we believe that the mortality of human flesh in this world is only a veil, a portal, through which we must pass. Death is only the onset of renewed life in heaven for those who remain faithful to the Lord’s call, accepting of his grace, and attentive to his presence in the world.
God never takes back his gifts or his call. He does not take our lives for once given, God makes permanent the life he wills and gives. God’s call and his gifts are irrevocable. Not only irrevocable, but he sustains those gifts, especially the gift of life. He always, without ceasing, holds our lives in his hands, conceiving us over and over again by his will, over and over again saying, “I give you life. I give you my Spirit. I desire you. I will you to live. I will you into life.” Over and over again, without ceasing. This is God’s plan, his ultimate desire for us, i.e., for us to live with him, be in relationship with him, see him. God wills it.
Yes, the effects of sin and the deception of Satan undoubtedly have brought sickness and death into our world and into our lives. It is a stain on God’s original plan, and this stain’s effects are experienced by each of us, all of humanity, indeed the whole of creation, but God has broken the back of Satan, shattered his chains, the chains of death, and destroyed the grip of evil. God says to Satan and death, “You will never have the last word, for I have given all men and women the freedom to choose, to speak, and to live. They have the last say. I offer them life and happiness and peace, I offer them joy. You, O Death, offer only darkness, despair, loneliness, selfishness, and separation.”
We struggle with the mystery of life and death at times like today, when someone deeply loved by us suffers and dies. We struggle to understand, we ask, “Why? Why does a good man die?” Without our faith, we could easily conclude that it is all just terribly unfair, that death has the last word and is the final destination for all.
Yet, we experience life! We know that we live. We know that from nothing we became living breathing human beings. We witness the death of others but we live and experience life directly. We cannot deny our lives, which life is ours and we cannot deny the lives of others. This is a great temptation in our world today, i.e., to take life from people rather than giving and sustaining life in them.
The choice is ours when faced with the mystery. God gives us life and he will not take it from us even when we experience the mortality of our human flesh in this world.
Bill chose well, and may God in his mercy bless him abundantly.
My friends, today is a day when our faith in the resurrection and our hope for eternal life become so important. Of one thing I am completely persuaded, and to which I testify — Death never has the last say, for Jesus has conquered all things, even death, and his victory will be experienced by us also if we remain faithful. I am convinced that new life has been promised and will be given to all the hopeful.
We have every reason to believe that God’s love and mercy has been richly poured out on John. We have every reason to hope that with an equal abundance of divine mercy and love poured into our lives, we will one day see John again. That day we will be in communion with all the saints of heaven in adoration of God. We believe and we hope for that day of resurrection, eternal life, and the communion of saints.
This is the Christian message. We all long to hear it, to believe it, to hope for it. Life is eternal, death is momentary; sin is forgiven with repentance, and life in relationship with God and each other is stronger than any suffering or illness. God’s love is limitless and eternal.
Although I only knew John partially in this life, I believe I will know him fully in the life to come. I have hope in the resurrection and its glory. I think you do also.
I would like to close by praying with you the closing verses of Psalm 16.
I bless the Lord who counsels me;
Even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices
My body too abides in confidence;
Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world,
Nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
You will show me the path to life,
Fullness of joys in your presence
The delights at your right hand forever.