Note: Below is the prepared text of the homily that Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94), delivered at the Requiem Mass for Thomas Aquinas College’s founding president, Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, on October 18, 2013. Fr. Sebastian is a professor of philosophy at St. Michael’s Abbey Seminary in Orange, Calif.
When Dr. McArthur asked me to preach the homily for his Requiem Mass, he said I had one condition: I was not to say anything nice about him. I promised him I would denounce him from the pulpit. He liked that.
The Gospel for this Requiem Mass is taken from the account of the raising of Lazarus. In that account, the beloved disciple mentions three times that Jesus loved Lazarus.
The first time is when Martha and Mary sent to Jesus, and they said: “Lord, the one whom You love is sick.”
The second time is when Jesus hears the news, and St. John notes: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
And the final time is when Jesus wept: “So the Jews said: ‘See how He loved him!’”
Leaving aside the more profound significance of these three attestations of Jesus’s love, an obvious truth is this: St. John saw the need to constantly draw our attention to the simple fact of Jesus’s love for one who has died and His love for those who are close to Him. In the face of death, in the face of our own death and the death of those who are close to us, we need to be reassured that God loves us, especially since His love is revealed in actions which we often misunderstand as indifference.
St. John says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He remained for two days in the place where He was.” Why would Jesus do that? Why would one who loved Lazarus delay in coming? Why is that an expression of His love? This certainly must have been in the hearts of Martha and Mary when each said, in turn, to the Lord: “Lord, if you had only been here, my brother would not have died!”
The truth is that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death even without being there bodily, as He did with the son of the centurion. Yet Martha and Mary desired the consolation of His sensible presence, thinking that their brother died because He Who is present everywhere by His divinity had not been present there by His humanity. They were in error.
God wants us to trust Him completely, even — and especially — when we do not sense His presence, even when it seems that He is not with us. Jesus once told St. Catherine of Siena, “Nothing you have done, nothing you are doing, and nothing you will do pleases me as much as when you believe that I love you.” The culminating moment of this trust is the moment of our death, and in that moment, we need to trust that Jesus loves us. This trust at the moment of our death is simply another name for the grace of final perseverance.
Since God permits death as an expression of His love for us — it is a manifestation of His love for us when we die — then it follows that we ought to thank God even as we come to mourn the death of one so dear to us. Now is the time to thank Him.
We ought to thank God first of all for the blessings He has bestowed upon each one of us through the life of Dr. McArthur. Who here in this Church has not received some great good, be it wisdom, or friendship, or even just that paternal affection he was so well known for? Who is it who has not received some great good from God through the life of Dr. McArthur? But the time comes for all of us to return home to our Father, Who made us, and so we ought to thank God also for his death.
Every human soul is created immediately by God from His infinite love. Jesus once said: “Father, You have loved them even as You have loved me” (Jn. 17:23). Stop and contemplate the significance of those words! The Father loves us with the same intensity of love with which He loves His only and eternally begotten Son. How can that be? It is because nothing in God is an effect. So God’s love for us is not caused by our goodness, but rather conversely, we are good because God loves us. So if our goodness is not the measure of God’s love for us, what is? His goodness. And so since His goodness is infinite, so is His love for us, as infinite as His love for His eternally begotten Son. The way St. Thomas once put it is that God loves us so much that, if He could, He would make us to be God to Him.
And so God has the first claim on every human person, and each person is on loan to us from God, no matter how dear they have become to us through the course of a long life. Jesus said to His Apostles before He left them, “If you loved Me you would rejoice that I go to the Father” (Jn. 14:28). Ron would say the same thing to us: If you loved me, if you wanted what was truly in my best interest, then you would rejoice that I return to my Father who made me. Yet the gifts which God bestowed upon us in and through Dr. McArthur are not definitively taken from us at his death. God is not an “Indian giver.” He does not give to take away. When He gives, He gives forever. We who have faith in Christ, in the power of His Resurrection, hope for a definitive and eternal reunion with all those whom we love in Christ.
In the meantime, we must console one another by constantly remembering that those who live in Christ, who have followed His teaching and way of life, will rise again incorruptible, eternally youthful, perfect, and forever happy. Jesus especially promised this through the power of the Eucharist when He said: “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn.6:50-1).
It is by eating His flesh, truly and substantially present in the Eucharist, that the power to rise again is communicated to our own flesh: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn.6:57). How many times did Dr. McArthur receive the Body and Blood of Christ with faith and devotion? Could the words of Truth Himself be untrue? Ron is not gone or lost; he is waiting for us, but he is hidden from our bodily eyes, visible to faith, the way Jesus is hidden under the appearances of bread and wine. And so whenever we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus with faith and love, we are consoled greatly in the hope that we will be united with him in a perfect and eternal life.
Besides his great love for Jesus in the Eucharist, Dr. McArthur was a truly devoted son of Mary. How often did he call upon her for wisdom and perseverance, and never once was he left unaided. Our hope, therefore, that Ron will one day rise again with the just could not be more sure.
But if we have firm confidence that our brother will rise with the saints on the last day, we do not presume to think that he has no need of our prayers and sacrifices now. Indeed, it is now more than ever that we are indebted to return love for love. It is written in the book of Job: “Shall man be justified in comparison to God, or shall a man be more pure than his maker? Behold, they that serve Him are not steadfast, and in His angels He found wickedness. How much more shall they that dwell in houses of clay, who have an earthly foundation, be consumed as with the moth?” (Job 4:17-9). St. Faustina records in her diary that she was amazed that even the littlest thing will be scrutinized at the judgment, and the Lord Jesus assures us that we shall be judged for every idle word.
Is this because God is a nitpicker, severe and lacking liberality? Quite the opposite. God wants to give us His entire self. There is no part of Himself that He does not want to give us, and so there is no obstacle to our love for Him that He permits to remain in our hearts. God is our perfect and entire happiness, the good which perfects every part and aspect of our being. It is precisely because God is the good which we truly desire in every one of our actions, even the slightest, that we cannot be happy unless we love God with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole soul, and our whole strength. But we, poor creatures that we are, spend the greater part of our lives loving God in part, loving Him by halves. Ron dwelt in his house of clay for 89 years, so we have good reason to believe that he could use our help.
In the book of Maccabees we read that Judas Macchabeus “acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Mac.12:43-45). And in the Song of Songs we read, “Love is stronger than death” (Sg. 8:6). We have a natural sense that we are somehow able to come to the assistance of our loved ones, even after death. The word of God confirms this. Our love is able to reach through the veil and do good for Ron by our prayers and sacrifices on his behalf.
By the mercy of God, we have not only our own poor prayers and meager sacrifices to offer for the soul of our dear brother, but something immensely more pleasing to God: the sacrifices and satisfaction made by His Son, first of all in the Holy Mass, and secondly in the form of indulgences granted by the Church in view of the excess merits of Christ and His Mother and many of the saints. These are the means which we must employ most of all to assist the soul of Dr. McArthur. Out of the debt of gratitude and friendship we owe to him, I ask each one here to promise to try to obtain one plenary indulgence for his soul.
One of the biographers of St. Thomas relates this little known story about the saint. Apparently, after he died, when his confreres were being interviewed about his holiness of life, not one could speak about him without shedding tears. He was such a dear friend to them.
And now it is time to say goodbye to a dear friend: one to whom we owe so much more than gratitude and tears. Take your rest dear friend. The time of labor and toil is past. Farewell, Christian soldier. The dangers and fears of this present life have given way to the security and peace of eternity. Like Jesus we have loved you, Ron, and it is right and fitting that with Jesus we weep. The dark vale of this life shall be darker still now that you live among us no longer. Yet your passing makes us more eager for the resurrection of the righteous, that definitive reunion of love. We long to hear the last trumpet and the voice of the Lord Jesus bidding us to come: Come to the Father. Amen.
“The texts we are reading ask the fundamental questions in life, which every human person needs to be able to answer. You want to answer these questions, and you experience the beauty of wonder in discussing them.”
– Suzie Jackson (’15)
“Thomas Aquinas is already the preeminent Catholic college in the country.”
– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)
Archbishop of New York