We buried Justin on the Feast Day of the Guardian Angels, October 2, 2010. I have been working on transcribing the homily given by Father Conrad at the funeral Mass. Fr. Conrad was Justin’s spiritual director and good friend at Franciscan University of Steubenville. We were honored and grateful that Fr. Conrad traveled to Maryland to be with us. This is one of the hardest days of the year, you wake up and your only thought is what you were doing on that day. It has taken a long time to listen again and transcribe these beautiful words, tears and sorrow can be overwhelming and it can take years to work through that sorrow until you can type and actually see the screen. These words have given much comfort, deeper insights into Justin, sharpens the pain of his absence, but also gives strength for the journey. Below are Fr. Conrad’s words, may they touch your heart with the love that Justin has for each of us.
I should first of all like to express the condolences of Franciscan University of Steubenville to Justin’s family that I have felt I have known for many years because I have been witness to Justin’s love for you. Three times a day the students gather for mass and some three hundred, three times a day pray for Justin as a member of the alumni. This being Parent’s Weekend and Alumni Weekend, at every Mass Justin is prayed for.
I express also the condolences of the Friars, you know not having sons and daughters of our own, we adopt the parents’ sons and daughters while they are students there, so we too grieve at the loss of someone that we have we loved. It is good to grieve, our Lord grieved at the death of Lazarus. Not to grieve would be to say that we have put no value upon the presence of the person who has been with us that we have loved. Put no value upon his love, his presence, and that we are not going to miss him. If we did not grieve that would be probably what we were saying.
But there is a limit and a perspective to our grief of course, because Christ has risen from the dead. The first fruits of those of who have fallen asleep, we shall all rise and after our death we shall be with Christ and eventually our bodies will be with Christ also in the general resurrection of dead. So there is a perspective to our grief, a relative grief, a grief being deprived of the presence we have known. But that presence isn’t totally taken away, Justin has not lost his memory, he is not in heaven saying “I did have a mother, a father, a brother, didn’t I, relatives, didn’t I?” No. He knows and he loves. We can pray to anyone that has died, trusting that they are in the presence of God. So our grief is relative.
There are those who would say of course that we mourn because Justin’s life has been cut short, been deprived of the fullness of life. But of course there never was anymore than what there was. God knew on Monday and told the angels in heaven I’m sure, to prepare a banquet because Justin was coming home and there would be a triumph in heaven at his arrival in heaven. We did not know that, he did not know that, but God knows everything. And with God all time is as a single day, so I think we have to temper whatever thought we would have had. We would say perhaps, “well it is to bad because he did not have a family, he did not marry, he did not have children of his own.” But, not long before he died, he became a spiritual father, becoming a godfather to a child. What a privilege that child has. Not only a guardian angel that we celebrate today on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, not only a guardian angel in heaven, but Justin to look over him and intercede for him, how fortunate he is and Justin did experience that spiritual fatherhood of becoming a godfather before going home to God
I would (there was a bit of a pause)…Justin has not lost his memory, I have lost lost mine (much good laughter). He is preparing a place for all of us assuredly. We would grieve perhaps he did not finish his studies. Finish his studies? Justin had a deep knowledge of what some of us perhaps lack, this is a knowledge of the ways of God. You see, well I always think of the quotation from St. Bonaventure “I have come forth from you the most high and I go to you the most high, and I go through you the most high. Justin knew that he had come forth from the hands of God. I think that is why we have a longing to back to God. Because we came into this world through God’s creative power, God holds us in existence, we belong to God as the violin desires to go back into the hands of the violin maker, we have in our hearts a longing, a yearning that can never be satisfied, it is a yearning to go home, to go back to where we came from to go back to the God who made us. St. Augustine expresses much more beautifully, in saying “you have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We have a longing for God within our hearts, a restlessness that can never be totally satisfied in this world until we are in the presence of the God who made us. I have come forth from you most High, Justin knew that, and I am going to you the most High, we live on a pilgrimage of return to the God who made us and Justin knew that. And he knew that he did not walk alone however along that road that leads back to God, because he walked with Christ. The completion of the sentence “I have come forth from you the most high and I go to you the most high, and I go through you the most high,” we return to the God who made us through Christ, through Christ our Lord, who is the way, and the truth, and the life.
In our Baptism we die and we are born again, we are born sharing in the life of Christ. So that Christ lives within us by grace. Doctrinally, the gift of uncreated grace, the presence of God within us communicating to us a share in his own life. As Justin tried through life, as we try through life, to see reality with eyes of Christ, to hear with the ears of Christ, to hear the suffering and the pain that is around us in this world and to try to do something about that. To serve with the hands of Christ, to walk with the feet of Christ, to love with the heart of Christ. Christ lives within us. That he is present in our heart, moving us to love, to love the Father, to love God, to love all humanity for which God died, Christ died upon the cross, that his love lives in us. Justin may not have completed his PhD, but he knew what is the most important knowledge of all, because it is the knowledge of life, of what my life is about, that I have come forth from the hands of God and I am going back into the hands of God and it is through Christ that I will return back into the hands of God. That is the great knowledge, the great wisdom which he had. And that presence of Christ within him he knew was strengthened each day with the Eucharist we receive. We receive Christ in the Eucharist and by that we are joined to him, But we all receive Christ in the Eucharist, we are joined to one another as we receive Christ in the Eucharist and that is the nourishment, food for the journey of life, the presence of Christ within in us nourished by the Eucharist that we receive each day. So that was the great wisdom that he learned, it was the great wisdom that he lived, it is the great wisdom which he leave to us.
We pray that the angels may lead him into paradise on this Feast of the Guardian Angels, we pray the angels may lead him into paradise and we pray that Mary, the mother of Jesus may be there to welcome him. How many times, how many times did he pray “Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death.” The Mother of God is not deaf! He prayed that she might be with him in the moment of death and we pray that Mary may present Justin to her son and say to her son, “my Son I have been reminded of you through him, I saw you living in him, I ask you now to accept him into your kingdom, to show him that dwelling place that you prepared for him from the beginning of time.” That is what we pray for. To be sure, one must be purified to enter into the presence of God, that is why we pray for him, that is why we say many prayers. Not to want that is to want the impossible, if one does not wish to be purified to enter into the presence of God, one either has a very low estimation of God, or a very high estimate of oneself. All the prayers that we say for him, all of the Masses that we offer for him, they are already present in the presence of God at the moment Justin appeared before him.
And so we enter into Eternal Rest. Oh perhaps rest, yes rest indeed. No more worry, no more anxiety, no more fear, none of those interior tribulations that we experience in this life. No, rest from all of that, rest from struggle. But the rest of sleep? I think not. The mind enters into union with God, God is infinite, if we started today and looked and saw God as He is in Himself, all the days that have existed from the creation of the this world to the end of the world could not exhaust our growth in knowledge of the infinity of God. And with that knowledge comes loves. We just don’t look and enjoy what we see, but we love what we see. No, our life after this world is a life of complete, endless, endless, plunging the depth of the infinity of God and our heats inflamed and filled with love and joy in God’s presence. And in all of that, his prayers, his love for us, for his mother and his father, and his brother, and all his family, and all his relatives, and all his friends. That love that moves him to ask that we might all be united with him forever. Yes, it is a time of grieving. Grieving because the way in which we have known him and experienced his presence is not there for us now. But he is here for us. We receive the Lord in the Eucharist we are joined to one another, we are joined to Christ. We pray that he is joined to Christ also, and so we are united as we come to the altar and celebrate the Eucharist with those who are present and those who have gone before us. So let us rejoice with Justin and this day even as we acknowledge that wonderful presence that we have had, that we can’t quite experience in this world as we did a few days ago. May the Lord bless us and give us His peace.