Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Father William's Funeral

It is amazing to think of all the different aspects of the Christian life that Fr. William explored and expounded during his lifetime: contemplative prayer, the meaning of Scripture, the communion that is monastic life. But there are two other aspects that are also important, both for Fr. William and for us: being a child of God and sharing in the kingship of Christ as we heard in today’s readings. They might seem like an odd combination, childhood and kingship, but they are essential to the Christian life. Let us see how they apply to Fr. William and to us?

            In the first reading, we heard those remarkable words of St. John: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” Fr. William had a childlike streak in him, a little mischievous at times, a little stubborn at times, but with a desire to experience what a child experiences, namely, using the words he used to end his e-mails, to be happy, to be free, to be loving, to be loved. But there is something more astonishing about being a child of God. St. John puts it this way: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed…when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” This is our privilege as children: we will be allowed to reach in behind the veil and see God as he is.

            The other aspect of the Christian life is sharing in the kingship of Christ. St. John had said that we shall see God as he is, but the Gospel shows us exactly what we are looking for. It is in the crucifixion of Jesus that we see God as he is: God bearing out of love all the suffering of his children; God bearing the insults of bystanders and criminals to win them over; God showing abundant mercy even to a thief, who, like a repentant child has won over the heart of his father and is allowed to steal heaven. Here we see God as he is: a king, but one that the soldiers jeer at, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” This is the paradox of Christ’s kingship that we must share, the scandal and the glory of the Lord’s cross, and it is not easy.

            Now you may wonder why I am dwelling on this sharing in the kingship of Christ. But I’m sure you remember the story of how Fr. William was especially marked out for kingship. When Dom Thomas appointed him to supervise the young professed, he was asked, “And what would you like to be called? Fr. William immediately responded, “I’ve always wanted the title of king.” And so it happened. Henceforth, the Junior Professed when passing by would greet him with, “O King, live forever!” But I cannot help but think that this kingship had a deeper meaning. When Fr. William returned from his various surgeries, in my eyes he began to resemble more and more the king on the cross. And when the end came, standing before the Lord, I like to think that Fr. William could recognize him from his own experience of suffering, and could cry out, “O true king, live forever.” But the deeper mystery might have been our Lord’s response, “O King, you live forever, for you have lived in me.”

         These two elements of the Christian life are not easy: accepting our status as children of God means accepting our weakness, and accepting our share in Christ’s kingship means accepting our share in the cross of Christ. But despite all the challenges, I think Fr. William would assure us that it is all worth it. He would probably quote one of his favorite authors: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” May Fr. William rest in peace. 

Dom Vincent's homily for Father William's Funeral.