Monday, April 4, 2016

Do You Believe This? Living a Catholic Life and Dying a Catholic Death

This morning I had the privilege of joining four other priests in offering the Funeral Mass for a former parishioner and friend of mine. This was the homily that I delivered.

Dear Friends in Christ,

For two thousand years, Jesus Christ has continued to ask the very same question that he put to Martha in today’s gospel. “I am the resurrection and the life; anyone who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  Do you believe this?  Every human being who hears this question must give answer.  Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the risen savior? Do you believe that he died for your sins? Do you believe that he rose from the dead?

Martha replied, “Yes Lord, I have come to believe.” This week, I imagined what Joe’s response would have been had the Lord stood in front of him and asked, “Do you believe this?”  Joe would have straightened up, leaned his head in close as he often did, the twinkle in his eye would have appeared as well as his smile. He’d look down over his glasses, and say, “Do I believe it? You better believe that I believe it!”

There are many wonderful things that could be said of Joseph Boyle, but none more significant than this: Joseph Patrick Boyle was a Catholic. He believed in Jesus Christ.  The first time Joseph was asked that question, “Do you believe?” was on the day of his baptism when others answered  for him.  But that question was asked of him repeatedly throughout his life.  He answered it again and again. He answered it by the manner of his life. He answered it humbly.  He answered it every Sunday when, with his wife at his side, he knelt and worshipped God. He answered it in his generosity to so many; a generosity which he once reminded me was nobody’s business.  “Father, what I give to the Church is between you, me, God, and the IRS man!” He answered that question in the manner in which he so clearly loved and honored his wife, his children, and his grandchildren.  Joseph Boyle was Catholic to the core.

In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul writes that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This is the life to which every Christian aspires. We aspire to become more and more conformed to Jesus Christ, to be shaped by the Faith that we profess. In a very beautiful way, Joe’s life was marked by a transformation where gradually Christ came more and more to live in him.  This is the privilege given to those who accept Christ’s invitation to follow.

So often, when Joe would leave Mass, he would joyfully repeat some particular phrase from the scriptures that was on his mind.  Or, he would recite some particular hymn--none more dear to him than, “Lift High the Cross.”  If an altar server wanted to get a pat on the back from Joe, all he would need to do is to be sure to carry the Cross high.  As Joe would come out of church, he would inevitably say to me, “Father, allow me to compliment you on your crucifer. He did Our Lord well today by Lifting High the Cross.”

Joe’s devotion to the Holy Cross was not simply a devotion to his alma mater. No, Joe accepted the Lord’s invitation to “Lift High the Cross.” He desired that all should come to believe in the One who gave his life for us. He wanted others to know how glorious a thing it is to have a relationship with Jesus.

The Cross for Joe was not an abstraction.  Joe taught us what it looks like to carry the Cross with resignation and with dignity.  A few years ago, I called to your home and Joe answered the phone. I told him it was me.  After we spoke for a few moments, he said to me, “Well Father, I am sure that you are calling to talk to my lovely bride, but I’m afraid she’s not here. So I’m going to write down that you called because if I don’t write it down, in two minutes I will have completely forgotten that you called.”  For a man whose memory was such an important part of his life, the Cross that Joe was given must have been particularly difficult. And yet, he carried it with resignation, with humor, and with joy. As Joe suffered various illnesses and their effects, he did what a Catholic is called to do: He lifted High the Cross. More and more, Joe could say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

When we renovated the church a few years ago, Joe and Jolyne--as always--did more than their share. Originally they asked if they could sponsor the restoration of the resurrection scene, but
somebody else had already asked.  They graciously settled for the “Agony in the Garden.”  We see depicted in that scene, that during our Lord’s agony, the Father sends to him an angel to comfort him and to tend to him. The Lord did not send an angel to Joe. Instead, he sent him a wife. As Joe entered more and more into the mystery of the Lord’s Cross, at his side, was his Jolyne--or as Joe always referred to her to me, “my lovely bride.” Her fidelity to Joe certainly helps all of us to see more clearly the profound beauty of the words they spoke to each other on their wedding day: “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  

It might be fair to say that Joe’s faith was somewhat influenced by his Irish heritage. One hundred years ago this month, an Irish poet named Joseph Plunkett was executed. One of his poems is entitled,”I See His Blood Upon the Rose.”

I SEE his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,

His body gleams amid eternal snows,

His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds

Are but his voice—and carven by his power

Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,

His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,

              His cross is every tree.

This poem is so thoroughly Catholic. The author sees Christ everywhere and in everything. This is what I mean when I say that Joe was a Catholic man. Every day, more and more, Joe saw Christ in everything. Every day, more and more, Joe was being conformed to Christ. This is the Catholic life.  When Joe quoted scripture, recited hymns, or spoke about God and the Church, he did so as a man who was being completely taken up into the new life of Christ. He spoke of these things with an almost boyish joy.

Yesterday, at my Sunday Mass at Boston University, I told the kids about Joe. I told them something very beautiful about his last days on this earth.  On the Saturday before Easter, as some of Joe’s family were heading off to the Easter Vigil, Joe called Johanna back to his side. He said to her, “You know, those women will go racing to the tomb, but they’re not going find him. He’s risen.”

Do you believe this?” Jesus asked.  “I am the resurrection and the life; anyone who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  In the last hours of his life, Joe had yet again another opportunity to answer this question, and he answered it beautifully: “He’s not in the tomb. He is risen.”

Brothers and sisters, God has placed in our life a man who lived the Catholic life and died professing the Catholic Faith. What a privilege we have been given. Our love for Joe does not end. We continue to love him by offering prayers and sacrifices for him, especially by offering the Holy Mass for him. Our prayers for Joe--today and in the future--help him as he pilgrimages from this earthly dwelling to the eternal dwelling of the Father.

Joe was a Catholic man. He lived his Catholic faith with joy. Joe knew that Christ makes all things new.  Jesus spent 81 years making Joe new. This newness will culminate on the day that Joe’s body is raised in glory and reunited with his soul. It is our Christian hope that Joe--who lived a life of faith in Jesus Christ--will cry out in unison with John the Evangelist, “I have seen a new heavens and a new earth.”

Today, in our sorrow and in our grief, Jesus comes to us and puts to us the most important question we shall ever be asked: “I am the resurrection and the life; anyone who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  

Joseph Patrick Boyle believed it. And by his beautiful life and example of faith, he helped all of us to believe it too. In this life, Joseph lifted high the Cross. May he now be lifted up into the realms of heavenly glory and be given a place among the saints.


  1. A great example of faith, I've known people like Joe and their quiet, consistent devotion is a wonderful support to our communities, thank you for sharing it.

  2. Beautiful - just beautiful. Wish I could have been at the Mass but so grateful that you printed the eulogy.
    Juanita Gordon

  3. Thanks for these words and thanks for being with us at Joe's funeral.