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Funeral homily for Archbishop Daniel W. Kucera, O.S.B.

Posted by Jeanine Jelinek on June 12, 2017 at 12:50 PM

Funeral homily given by Abbot Austin for Mass of Christian Burial for Archbishop Daniel Kucera, OSB - June 10, 2017, at St. Procopius Abbey


In Christ before death and after death

Dostoevsky once noted that a man's life is a mystery. At a funeral, we are given opportunity to ponder such a mystery. We reflect on the mystery of the life of the one who has left us -- in this case, Archbishop Daniel Kucera.


Part of the mystery of Archbishop Daniel's life, I think, was that he belonged to many communities. He belonged to his family -- and many of his relatives are here. He belonged to this abbey, and to the wider Benedictine. And it is good to have Abbot Vincent and Abbot Philip with us. Archbishop Daniel also belonged to the communities of our schools, especially at the college -- and some are here from the schools. He belonged to the Diocese of Joliet, when he served as auxiliary bishop here. And I am grateful to Bishop Conlon and priests of the diocese for being here. He also belonged to the Diocese of Salina, KS, when he served as bishop there, and I met someone yesterday who knew him from there. And he belonged to the Archdiocese of Dubuque, having served as that's diocese's bishop, and I know there are some from the archdiocese here.


Archbishop Daniel gave himself and his talents to each of these communities. And when you serve a community, you enter into it. Think of Christ. He served the human race by entering into it and belonging to it. So, Archbishop Daniel served and belonged to these various communities. And it seems to me, that his is part of the mystery of his life.


Here's a quote from the popular movie, It's a Wonderful Life: "Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" We are now feeling the hole of Archbishop Daniel's departure from us. He was a big figure in our lives. And all of us are feeling his absence.


I would like us to focus, in this homily, our attention especially on the 2nd Scripture reading for this Mass. It is from the First Letter to the Corinthians, and it includes this line: "For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life" (1Cor 15:22). St. Paul is of course speaking about the resurrection. Christ has been raised to eternal life, and in Christ we too will be raised to eternal life. We renew this faith in the resurrection in this Mass, as we commend Archbishop Daniel to God.


Right before the passage that is our second reading, St. Paul addresses those who deny the resurrection. Now, many of you have probably heard the story of what the Catholic novelist, Flannery O'Connor, said to someone who opined that the Eucharist is just a symbol, and not really the Body and Blood of Christ. Her famous response was: "If it is just a symbol, then the hell with it!" A strong response, but in a way she was following St. Paul. He has a similar response to those denying the resurrection.


St. Paul says that if there is no resurrection, then all this Christianity stuff is bunk. His preaching of the gospel? It's a sham. Our faith? It is pointless. Â St. Paul goes on to say that if we have hoped in Christ not for the future life of the resurrection, but only for this life, then we are the most pitiable people of all. Or as Flannery O'Connor might say: "If the resurrection is just a symbol, then the hell with it!"


But it is not just a symbol; it is a reality. And it takes place in Christ. Christ has been raised. And through His resurrection we hope to rise again: "just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life" (1 Cor 15:22).


Everything hinges on Christ. Christ has risen, and in Him -- that is, united with Him -- we too will rise. Notice that we must be in Christ, in order to rise. The resurrection is after death. But we must become in Christ before death, if we are to rise after death.


The key is to be in Christ. I wonder about metaphors to describe being in Christ. Archbishop Daniel was a capable administrator and, so, perhaps that's why I thought of some images from the world of management.


People in management like to speak about putting together "their team." Being in Christ is like being on the same team as Christ -- you have the same mindset as Christ and you work together with Christ.


People in administration also speak of putting their team together as getting the right people on the bus. This metaphor is far from perfect, but let's try it. Being in Christ is like being on His bus. The final destination is the resurrection. Christ is going to bring us to that destination, to the resurrection, if we are on His bus.


So, people have chances to get on His bus. The bus stops now and again, as it were, and people can get on. The normal way of getting on the bus is by entering the Church through baptism and, then, you continue on the bus through faith and good works, nourished by the sacraments.


Again, the bus stops now and again, and people can get on. The last stop during which a person can board is at the hour of death, but there is no getting on after death. We have to be on the bus by the time of death, in order to arrive at the resurrection after death.


But we can also think of the bus making stops, with those stops being when we can get off the bus. That is, there are times in our lives when we come to a moment of decision. Are we going to continue on in Christ, or turn from the way of Christ? So, in this metaphor of the bus, these moments in our lives are like stops of the bus. The bus stops and Christ says to us: Do you want to get off or are you still on? Are you still with me? It's like what happens after the gospel reading today. Jesus teaches about the Eucharist in today's gospel. We are told we must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood to remain in Him. But some are scandalized and leave Him. So, Jesus asks the disciples whether they want to leave Him. Will they stay on the bus or get off of it.


As we reflect on the mystery of Archbishop Daniel's life, I wonder what those stops were for him. Perhaps they were the different occasions when he was asked to take up a new responsibility. When he was called to be abbot, it was a moment of decision: Would he not only accept it, but apply himself faithfully to its challenges and difficulties? When he was called to be a bishop, perhaps it too was a moment of decision: Would he accept it and energetically dedicate himself to it, despite its crushing burdens? And each time he was called to a new diocese, perhaps those too were these moments. Or when, in these positions, he faced difficult challenges and agonizing choices -- they were these moments. We know he had these difficult moments. You do not hold the positions he held and not have to deal with difficult situations and tough choices.


As we know, in the last several years of his life, Archbishop Daniel's health begin to decline. He couldn't do as much as he had previously done. And he confessed that he did not, at first, handle this well. Some of us remember, I'm sure, a piece published in the archdiocesan newspaper of Dubuque, in which he confessed this. He apologized for being so difficult for others as he dealt with his diminished abilities. This seems to me to be another moment when the bus had stopped, and he had to decide.


The other moments of decision might have been when he undertook active duties. But this moment of decision had to do with not being able to do things. He had to accept limits, the limitations of illness and of old age. Surely, that is a tough thing for anyone to deal with, but especially for someone who had been so active as Archbishop Daniel. The bus had stopped, and the doors were opened -- he could have gotten off by refusing to bear this cross. But it seems to me that he said to Christ: "I'm still on board; I'm still with you along for the ride."


So, God, we ask that you reward Archbishop Daniel, who has journeyed with you through this life. Count him among your good and faithful servants. Complete the mystery of his life by enfolding it in the mystery of Your Son's life. Bring him in Jesus Your Son to the final destination of the resurrection.


Abbot Austin Murphy, O.S.B.

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