Even though it was a long struggle, the end came awfully quickly the other night. The stem cells just weren’t working and the infection was in his blood. And as we stood around the bed, Lois stroking his arm and the side of his head, Patrick, Brian and Melanie to my left, he just let out a few short breaths and he was gone.
It must have been the same a lot like the moment when he was born. In those days Jackie would have stayed as far from the delivery room as he could, but Dell would have heard as everything got quiet and they listened for the baby to take his first breath, like when God picked up the first clump of dirt and breathed on it and it became Adam. God’s breath comes down from heaven and we live. And then it leaves us, and returns to him.
And we cry. Because we have come to k now the love of God through the love which eeked from every pore of this good man. The comments on the obituary page say it best: they call him a pleasant man, a friendly spirit. a gentleman and lover of nature, a great man and a wonderful human being, and even “a leprechaun.” A very very big leprechaun, as the pall bearers can attest.
They carried John into Church today, in the same well that Jackie and Dell first carried him into the Old Immaculate as a little Baby, to be baptised into the death and rising of the Lord. Ego te baptizo, the priest would have said as he poured water over John’s head:. I baptize you, John, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And thus began a great journey, as John was joined to the death and rising of Christ Jesus. Jackie and Dell would teach him to pray, to make the sign of the cross, to kneel down and say his prayers, to go to confession and to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. At five years old, he probably went to Danny’s Baptism too, struggling to see the water as it was poured upon his brother’s head.
Day by day and year by year, he came to know Christ Jesus. He learned to love, to forgive and to live in the model of his Lord and Savior.
And then, Johnny and Louis and stood before the altar and promised to remain faithful to one another and to God: a promise they have lived together for forty-five years. And from that faithfulness, God brought forth Patrick and Brian, as John and Lois clung to faithful love in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death.
He loved you so much Lois. As he did you Patrick and Brian, and Danny and Sue. He loved you all, even more (although it’s hard to believe) even more than he loved the woods!
All I can see today is Jackie sitting in his car, staring into the woods this Fall, aching to be able to go hunting. And he did, a little bit, even risking a tick bite as his immune system struggled to recover.
I wonder what he saw in the woods? He gave us a hint in his monthly newspaper column almost a decade ago, when he wrote:
“There beats in the heart of most of us the memory of primal past, when furs from animals and leaves from plants were about the only insultaion we had we have from the wild. Animal wild, weather wild, contentious neighbor wild… A pure spirit that tells us that we are not necessarily Masters of all we survey.”
For John, the woods were a spiritual place, they pointed to something beyond us…an earthly reflection of the heaven we pray he enjoys today.
For, if God has heard our prayers,John is standing at the edge of Eden, another deep and mysterious wood. Where instead of bird dogs and setters he is accompanied by angels and martyrs. And the mysteries of this heavenly wood comes not from its darkness, but from its light. The light of a little child, who our of love for John was born in a manger and who calls him to join the Magi in following the star and worshipping him there as he has worshipped here for all these years.
Christ calls him to himself to rest with him in a place where there is no more suffering, no uncertainty, sickness or death, but only perfect peace.
May the angels lead you to that paradise, John. May the Lord forgive your sins. And may you know eternal rest.