Homily at Funeral Mass of Fr. Ulysse Paré, CSB – Our Lady of the Assumption Church Windsor, Ontario – March 31, 2014 – Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Revelation 21:1-7; John 11:17-44

 

Bishop Fabbro, Brother Priests, Dear Friends,

 

Our thoughts and prayers today are first for Fr. Paré’s family: Fr. Larry, Geraldine, Clare and Connie gathered here with us in Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Windsor to commend our brother and friend to God. His formal, baptismal, French name of “Ulysse” conjured up a formidable, historical figure of antiquity. His title “Father”, “Père”, “Padre” reminded us that he was priest and pastor. But to his own family, many confrères, students and lifelong friends, he was just “Bud.” Whatever we called him, Fr. Paré has been an outstanding and deeply loved rock of theological intellect, biblical wisdom and practical, spiritual strength whom we shall achingly miss, and for whose life we are so grateful to God. In Bud’s life, God has blessed us hugely, far beyond the boundaries of our small religious congregation and the borders of our nation.

In this liturgy of thanksgiving and farewell, let us first consider the powerful Scripture readings we have just heard and see the important links to Fr. Paré’s life and ministry. From the beautiful, stirring vision of John in the Book of Revelation 21:1-7, we hear of a new heaven and a new earth, of the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.  This city of the future lies ahead of us in time. It is the destination of our earthly journey, the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. But we also know that the “new Jerusalem” is not just a reality of a distant, unknown future. Fr. Paré taught us so many times through his teaching, preaching, leading and living that the new Jerusalem is already present among us when we love God and love neighbor, and act with integrity as disciples of Jesus. To countless students who sat at his feet at the University of Toronto, at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Assumption University in Windsor and most recently at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Bud always reminded us of two things: if a false idea of religion, as detached and purely spiritual was abhorrent, so too was the opposite mistake, to leave God out of the picture.

Heaven begins on earth, in our daily lives, when we live in generous love, in the image of the Blessed Trinity, in the imitation of Christ. Our behavior matters, for religion is more than the aesthetic experience of feeling spiritual. Our consecrated life and gospel witness is essential to the reality of the new Jerusalem unfolding here and now. We do not live only for eschatological realities but also for the here and now. We must live rightly, as citizens of that new Jerusalem here below, in accord with the will of God.

The Gospel we heard proclaimed a few moments ago recounts the moving story of the raising of Lazarus, the longest continuous narrative in John outside of the passion account (11:17-44). The theme of life predominates. Lazarus is a token of the real life that Jesus dead and raised will give to all who believe in him.

Jesus was aware of the illness of his friend Lazarus and yet did not go to work a healing. In fact, he delayed for several days after Lazarus’ death, meanwhile giving his disciples lessons along the way about the light – lessons incomprehensible in the face of grave illness and death but understandable in the light shed by Lazarus’ and Christ’s resurrection. Jesus used the death of his best friend as a teaching moment for a far greater reality.

How often have we, like Martha and Mary, blurted out those same words of pain and despair: “Lord, if only you had been there, my brother or sister or mother or father or friend would not have died.”  And yet this pathos-filled story tells us what kind of God we have… a God who groaned in spirit and was troubled; a God who wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and a God who was deeply moved at the commotion and grief of so many friends of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Jesus declared to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, he will live; whoever lives and believes in me, will never die.” And he adds: “Do you believe this?”  Jesus tells us who he is.  Only the One who has entered death’s realm and engaged death itself in battle can give life to those who have died.  As Christians we do not expect to escape death; but we approach it with faith in the resurrection.

As a great teacher of God’s Word, Fr. Paré would also take us deep into the meaning of the Gospel texts and remind us of the stories within the stories.  When I was a Basilian scholastic, Fr. Paré preached once on today’s Gospel with words I shall never forget.  He reminded us that the story of Lazarus also speaks about another kind of death.  We can be dead, even before we die, while we are still in this life. He was not only speaking of the death of the soul caused by sin; but of that state of a total absence of energy, of hope to fight and to live that one can only call: death of the heart.  Bud told us that all those who for various reasons – a failed marriage, the sickness of a child, financial ruin, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse – find themselves in this situation, the story of Lazarus resounds like the bells on Easter morning.

Who can give us this resurrection of the heart? For certain afflictions, we know that there exists no human remedy. Words of encouragement often fail to suffice.  Many times people in these situations are not able to do anything, not even pray. They are like Lazarus in the tomb. They need others to do something for them. The raising of Lazarus takes place in the presence of the people, in contrast to the call to resurrection given by Jesus to the daughter of Jairus. The latter event was concealed, whereas the command to Lazarus went out like a trumpet blast openly before the crowd.  “Lazarus, come forth!”  The command to “raise the dead” is addressed to all of Christ’s disciples. Even us! When he led us as our Superior General, Bud challenged us to raise one another to life.

As the news of his untimely death spread from Windsor to Detroit, Toronto, Saskatoon, London, Houston and many other places this past week, I found myself asking, “Why do some teachers and professors of Scripture make such a profound impact on the life of the Church and in so many individual lives?”

Two moments of recent history stand out in my mind about Fr. Paré’s contribution to the teaching of integration of God’s Word. The first moment was shared by both Bishop Fabbro and me during the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church several years ago at the Vatican.  Bishop Fabbro, as delegate of the Canadian Bishops Conference, and I, as Communications Secretary of the Synod, patiently listened to the Synod Fathers from around the world at times bemoaning the seeming impasse in Scripture teaching and scholarship due to the atomization and dissection of the Scriptures, and a lack of integration of biblical studies with faith and lived spirituality. Bishops from around the world asked whether today’s Catholic Scripture scholars and teachers were adequately prepared to draw from their exegetical knowledge and their own life of faith and prayer to help fellow Catholics discover the meaning of the biblical Word today. Many try to teach Scripture as a form of literary criticism removed from the context of the Church.  I distinctly remember after that round of synodal sessions going back to the Chapel at Domus Sanctae Marthae where we resided and quietly thanking God for the influence of Bud Paré on my life and studies. For what the Synod was rightly bemoaning and naming, we, Basilians had quite an opposite experience and should be thanking God for the likes of Bud Paré who taught us to love God’s Word in the context of the Church.

The second moment where I felt a deep sense of gratitude in my heart for Fr. Paré was this past November, upon the promulgation of Pope Francis’ masterful Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium.” In the centre of that magnificent letter is a brilliant section on teaching and preaching the Word of God entitled: “Words which set hearts on fire” (#142).

I read and reread that section and found it to be a wonderful description of Bud Paré’s method of teaching, preaching and living the Word of God.  Several weeks later, I told Bud that Pope Francis described him perfectly!  And in good Bud form, he laughed!

Blessed John Paul II once wrote, ‘We need heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who know the depths of the human heart, who can share the joys, the hopes, the agonies, the distress of people today, but who are, at the same time, contemplatives who have fallen in love with God’. These words describe Bud Paré so well: a herald of the Gospel and an expert in humanity who knew the depths of the human heart.

We Basilians are unlikely to forget his two dynamic, creative and hopeful terms of leadership of our Congregation from 1981-1989. I consider those years to have been a banquet of the Word of God for us.  His masterful and witty newsletters, with such titles as “On being pleasant”; “The importance of humor”, “The Authentic Life” had us all talking and thinking.  We would scour the newsletters to find the unique “Bud words” or “Bud expressions” hidden in the text. I have gone back to those newsletters countless times over the years for inspiration and wisdom.

Last night at the vigil service, Fr. Jim Carruthers named many of the initiatives and programs in which Bud participated and which Bud led. While leading Assumption University, he also served as Chair of its Board of Governors as well as Chair of the Board of Governors of the University of Windsor. At the time of his death this week, he was once again on the Board of Governors of Assumption University.

He always reached beyond our Basilian institutions and limited experiences of Church to be in dialogue with and influence the wider world around us. Bud understood what Pope Francis means with the words “geographical and existential peripheries.”

Bud offered us courageous, spiritual leadership – a real sense of “animation” as the French would say.  He was a risk-taker. While he may not have been the strategic implementer of projects and programs, he dared to dream dreams and share them with others for their full realization. He understood that great leadership meant involving many others in our projects and programs.  He was humble enough to recognize that it takes very competent assistants and colleagues to help fulfill dreams. He had the unique gift of encouraging others in ministry and bringing out the best of people and situations. He was also a deeply sensitive man who, because of his boundless generosity and trust of others, frequently suffered when those in whom he invested so much and trusted so generously, quickly forgot who gave them roots and wings and manifested little gratitude for so great a leader.

One effort that we gratefully attribute to Fr. Paré’s wise leadership was the outreach made to former Basilans who had journeyed with us for a number of years and then chose other paths. Bud’s efforts in establishing the association of former Basilians, in many cases brought much healing and reconciliation to individual lives and served as a blessing to our entire congregation.

In conclusion, I let Bud have the last word at this liturgy today. What he wrote to our Congregation at Christmas 1987 is ever so timely and even more necessary for us today:

“Just as [Jesus’] life was complicated by the dust of the hillside, the dirt of poverty and the injustices of the system, so must we expect to live in discomfort, mess and darkness. As disciples of his, we must not be afraid to come in contact with human misery and affliction, we must not fear or disdain a brother or sister in the grips of sin and disease; we must not withdraw from a world which oppresses, victimizes and kills.  We are here because he is here and we pray for the grace to make a difference by our presence and passing. …

“As a community of disciples and stewards we can show what it means to be responsible, cultured, influential without being authoritarian, stuffy or puffed up. By our commitment to education, to serving those in need we try, after the manner of Jesus, to bring light and assistance. We hope that our ministry will be seen as the continuation of the mission of Jesus and that we will be seen as messengers of hope and justice.”

I don’t think that it was mere coincidence that Fr. Paré was called home on the day when the Church celebrated the Annunciation of Mary, Mother of the Lord, a day that recalls the “yes” and “fiat” of the virgin daughter of Nazareth to God’s mysterious ways. Bud gave his response to the Lord on Mary’s feast.

Just as Lazarus stirred when he heard the words, “Lazarus come forth,” may our brother Bud rise quickly and enter into life on high and the eternal rest promised to all those who hear the Word of God and put it into practice each day of their lives.

Thank you, Bud, for being with us and making a difference.  Your presence and your passing have blessed and marked us as individuals and as a community of priests and disciples. Your life, commitment and ministry have shown us the face of Christ and challenged us to carry forward his mission here on earth.

Our love for you and our deep gratitude for the gift you have been for the Basilian Fathers and for the Church provoke this thought: If such were the gift, what must God be like, the Giver of that gift?

Intercede for us, now that you behold his presence and share his eternal life. Don’t forget us now at this critical moment of our Basilian history! We will never forget you, Bud. Rest in peace, good and faithful servant.