Today I preached the homily for a good friend of mine who has been failing for some years and died Wednesday, November 3.
Father Timothy Fitzgerald came to our community here in Jamaica right before Christmas last year, and we were happy to have him. He’s an outstanding member of our province.
Over the years he held important positions in our province and our community. He was secretary to our superior general in Rome, novice master, rector, spiritual director, preacher of missions and retreats. He was a wise, holy man, widely read and widely respected. He could tell you what theologians, new and old, were saying. He could tell you about movies he saw when he was a kid. In one sense, he was a living Wikipedia.
But he was also an accomplished listener; he listened to you. That combination made him a wonderful spiritual director, and a wonderful friend.
Whenever I saw him I would say. “What are you reading, Tim? What do you want to tell me about?” And he would. He was always into something interesting.
If I ask that question now I think he would point to the readings he chose for this Mass. They represent his goals in life, what he wanted to be.
The spirit of the Lord GOD, is upon me, Isaiah says, to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, release to prisoners, to comfort all who mourn so that they could build God’s Kingdom. That was what Tim was, a bringer of good news. The spirit of God was upon him. He was a builder of God’s kingdom. (Isaiah 61)
The second reading he chose is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
“I consider everything as loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things that I may gain Christ. Through faith in Christ I know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, Our citizenship is in heaven. Jesus Christ will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.”
That’s what Tim believed and that’s what he lived, even to the end.
The other day in our library I saw Fr. John Fidelis reading something. He’s a lot like Tim and a good friend of his. ”What are you reading, John.” “Something Tim wrote, it’s really good. It’s from the Pittsburgh Catholic a few years ago.”
He was right. I would like to read some of that article to you. You can hear Tim himself speaking.
“We know it had to happen some day. Suddenly or gradually we can no longer do what we seemed to be doing forever. Limitations set in, muscles and bones ache, serious heath issues appear. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. As we change or lose control, we suffer.
In my life as a priest I’ve preached about facing limitations and suffering. Like a doctor who prescribes the right medicine, but is not sick himself, I blithely (yet truly) counseled others to see suffering not only as a mature human experience, but more profoundly as following our crucified Lord.
Now I find myself no longer able to do the ordinary joys of my ministry: offering Mass publicly, preaching, sharing spiritual direction. People assure that I’m not a burden, but that’s how I feel. So I must return to the advice I so freely gave to others and listen myself. Here are some time-honored ideas of faith, the accumulated wisdom from Christ that sustain me.
- We owe nothing to God but our thanks. God is not the cause of our suffering, he is the reason to suffer patiently. Suffering is not the result of a capricious or unjust God, for God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to be our Savior. ( John 3:16) How ungrateful would we be, if for one moment we blame God or resent him. God is all gift. (Romans 5:12-21)
- We are not excess baggage. As Christians we firmly believe we are God’s chilldren. Our dignity and worth do not depend on what we do, but who we are. Not productivity, achievements, intelligence, age, health, loss of memory, even sinfulness, change that. We are God’s children in Christ. ( Romans 8:31-39)
- Suffering in union with Christ brings growth. Each crucial moment in life is a death to a previous security. With Christ we ascend to light not darkness. In Christian life the pattern of growth is in harmony with the death-life cycle of Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Jesus did not bring the cross. He found it already in our human limitations which he took on completely, only without sin. Jesus’ mind and heart shapes our minds and hearts. We absorb his mind, his absolute trust of the Father. We accept limitations and sufferings not as an end in themselves (which would be insane) but as a way of following Christ for the good of the church and the world.
- We belong to a communion of saints. There’s a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on to follow our leader Jesus. ( Her. 12;1-4) They’re not only canonized saints, but also the holy ones on earth who surround us with compassion, patience, presence and prayers. In turn, we pray for others. Our faith is strong enough to believe that effectiveness in prayer is not confined to the strong and healthy. After all, a tubercular St. Therese is as much a patron of the missions as the globe-trotting Francis Xavier. Our faith is so breathtakingly wide that a handicapped person who never leaves home joins hands with a St. Patrick or a St. Francis of Assisi to spread the kingdom of God.
These are some of the ways our Catholic tradition strengthens people who suffer physically or are otherwise limited. This beautiful wisdom is hard to keep in mind when pain intervenes or memory fades. We always turn to our crucified Lord who when he was so weak, helpless, seemingly forsaken, was actually saving the world. May the Passion of Christ be always in our hearts.” (Pittsburgh Catholic, June 2013)
That’s Tim speaking for himself, on June, 2013. I think we can say that what he said then was how he lived as he went from one stage of life till the moment of his death last Wednesday, 2021.
As we said the prayers for the dying last Wednesday with him – most of our community were there – I think we all realized we were commending to God a marvelously consistent man of deep faith.
As we commend him to God today here at Mass, a sacrament he deeply loved and participated in till his death, with his family and the community he also deeply loved, we hear what the angels said to the women at the tomb of Jesus: “He is not here, he has been raised.” He’s among the living, in a communion of saints, now cheering us on, waiting for the final resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting. Amen.
Victor Hoagland, CP. November 13, 2021
Philippians 3: 7-11; 17-21
Luke 23:44-49; 24:1-6