Mass of Christian Burial, July 6, 2018
Homily: Most Reverend Ferdnand Cheri III
Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans
Micah 6:6-8; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 25:31-46
Whenever Fr. Chris would pass a Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall, he would yell, “Can I get a witness!”
If there is anything that Fr. Chris taught us by his life was to “do right, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” Fr. Chris was not a newcomer to this ideal, but one who exemplified this as he walked the walk and talked the talk. He was not a “Johnny –come-lately” but a pastor and shepherd who treasured that the time is now. The judgment is now.
Today’s gospel from Matthew 25 stresses for us that there is urgency about now: how we respond here and now to others bear eternal consequences. How we love NOW is already a judgment upon us and already is moving us in a direction of hearing Christ say to us, “Come you who are blessed” or say to us, “depart from me.” There is a propinquity – a nearness, a kinship – about “who” the person near us is Christ and how we respond determines how we will be judged. The judgment is not something in the future; the judgment is now before us. So what are we to be concerned about? Fr. Chris knew and understood this; lived it; and taught it. In particular:
- God’s reign is unique – a shepherd with his flock.
As its shepherd, God visits the flock to “take stock” of the damage after it has been scattered. “Taking stock” is an act of judgment, of discerning need before taking action. What ensues is a rescue operation, as God seeks out the sheep. For what is of first importance is the recreation of a viable community. The prophets, especially Micah, remind us, God is the shepherd who will seek us out, rescue us, gather us, and strengthen us. But, the fat and the strong God will destroy; God will feed them with justice. Justice means that God holds bullies accountable. This is good for both the bullied and the bullies. For us all, God is Shepherd and King. As the Psalmist sings in the 23rd psalm, God is shepherd, Comforter, Host and Guide. Then in this parable, Jesus offers some details about God that is worth our contemplation today.
- The kingdom given to those on the right was intended for all from the beginning. The eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels.
- There is an “ignorance motif” – neither the right nor the left knew that Jesus was connected to the “least of these” in such a way.
- Compassion has no other motive than meeting a need.
- Only Jesus determines who is on the right and who is on the left; not the preacher or the congregant member. Fr. Chris taught us:
- Who and where are the “Least of These?”
Jesus is shown to be a just judge who wants justice for his people; in fact, He will see to it that there is justice. Those who are listed are the people alongside whom Jesus has stood, for whom Jesus has fought, and to whom Jesus has shown mercy throughout his ministry – the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. Jesus deflects the glory for the sake of these. Are they all those who are oppressed? The basis for his judgment of us is whether we care for the least among us. In the encyclical, Gaudius Et Spes, Pope Paul VI wrote:
In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of active helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”
Fr. Chris lived and taught us:
- The least among us might be the hungry: those physically hungry, but also those empty of care and love.
- The least among us might be thirsty: those physically thirsty, but also those who have given up on life itself.
- The least among us might be a stranger: those unknown to us, but those near us whom we overlook or ignore.
- The least among us might be naked: those without warm clothes in the winter, but those who open themselves to others in inappropriate ways out of desperation for acceptance.
- The least among us might be those who are ill: the diseased, but also those lacking integrity and wholeness.
- The least among us might be those in prison, the incarcerated by the penal system, but also those locked in by their own selfishness.
The point is not to console threatened Christians, but to motivate faithful discipleship marked by mercy and love. “Least of these” means all people who find themselves in a situation where they are hungry, thirsty, unwelcomed, naked, sick, or imprisoned. ALL are to be on high alert to care for anyone in need. Pope Paul VI continues:
Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.
Fr. Chris taught us:
- At the Judgment, do you picture a celebration or fearful reckoning?
God will be a just judge. Did you notice that the gospel uses the word “YOU” meaning the plural? The gospel never addresses us as individuals giving an account for our deeds. The intention is to address the systematic treatment of the “least of these.” Fr. Chris felt that across this nation, we have not fared well; we need to fall on our knees in corporate confession. Confession is a call to action; a need to address issues such as health care, immigration, world hunger, and the new form of lynching in the penal system – just to name a few. Naming such concerns as we reflect on this friar minor’s life and testimony is unavoidable, for not doing so would surely equate us with those who asked, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”
Fr. Chris taught us, like others before him,
“One important aspect of justice … involves the restoration of what has been stolen. Giving food to the hungry or clothing to the naked is not a charitable handout but an exercise in simple justice – restoring to the poor what is rightfully theirs, what has been taken from them unjustly. So Jesus’ vision is not a plea for tax-deduction donations but a fervent cry for justice, for setting right what has gone wrong.”
Collective charity or corporate accountability challenges social structures of injustice and replaces them with structures that benefit all people. WHAT WE DO TO ONE ANOTHER MATTERS. We are held accountable.
Fr. Chris also taught us:
- Love of God and love for the poor are inseparable.
When and where do we see Christ? The youth acting out is Christ crying for help. The coworker frustrated by a new computer program is Christ needing encouragement. A friend suffering from a serious illness is Christ in need of a visit and comfort. Those not in our immediate presence – the hungry and the homeless, the imprisoned and alienated, the immigrant and stranger – are also Christ begging for our care and response according to our ability. All persons are Christ for us, and how we respond determines how we will be judged. In the Southside of Chicago, throughout the Diocese of Belleville, to friars in the Sacred Heart Province and across the nation, Fr. Chris challenged us to get right and stay right – do what is right, love mercy and walk humbly with God – as we make preparations for the judgment – with the recreation of a viable community of justice commissions, calling for voter registration and responsibility, safe houses/churches, develop young adult leadership, mentoring teens and protest leaders; and, like Fr. Chris, calling for justice and peace to correct the conditions that had contributed to the injuries of others. Fr. Chris pointed us to Jesus’ “least of these.” And Jesus blesses those who do.
Let our coming to this friar minor’s home going celebration make us better imitators of justice. Let our communion reflect the desire to see God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done. Let this be a celebration of justice and peace, not only hoped for, but evident for all to taste and see.
Father Christian (Chris) Reuter, OFM of East St. Louis, Illinois, born on January 18, 1939, in St. Louis, MO, passed on Saturday, June 30, 2018, at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. The Funeral Mass was celebrated at Immaculate Conception Church, Columbia, IL on July 6, 2018.
Fr. Tom Nairn, OFM, the Provincial of the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart was celebrant and Bishop Ferdnand Cheri, OFM, Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, LA, as homilist.
The homily of Bishop Ferdnand Cheri is presented here for your prayer full reflection and call to action now on behalf of our dearly departed brother Fr. Christian Reuter. He will never be replaced and never be forgotten since he lived a legacy that will carry on through each of us.
May his big, generous heart and soul rest in peace.