I’ve known Deacon Bill Diaz and his family for quite a long time. I’m very grateful to Bill’s family for inviting me to preach at his funeral.
The last time I spoke with Bill was a few weeks before he was hospitalized. We had been playing phone-tag, attempting to schedule a lunch meeting. We met from time to time in order to talk and catch up on one another’s lives. I had paid for lunch the previous time and Bill was eager to even the score.
Our lunch meetings were always dedicated to earnest consideration of all the world’s most pressing problems. Often, we discussed abstract theological and pastoral issues. Bill loved to discuss the current state of the Church. He loved to talk about the Eucharist, pastoral ministry, and the permanent diaconate. I will always remember those discussions fondly and be grateful for the time we spent together.
Those abstract questions about significant issues are very entertaining, but they have no complete and satisfying answers. The only answers that our minds can generate are as limited as we are and, therefore, inadequate to the task of explaining life’s deepest mysteries. Fortunately for Bill and me, the fraught and detailed part of those discussions was usually cut short, and mercifully so, when the waiter delivered our Palomilla Empanizado.
When last we spoke on the phone, we decided to postpone lunch for a few weeks; Bill was having trouble speaking and neither one of us wanted to forfeit the opportunity to talk at great length. At the time, neither of us could have guessed that what seemed like a minor inconvenience was actually a major health problem, the very health problem that has gathered us here today.
It is appropriate to ask why such tragedy had to strike down Bill’s life. It is appropriate to ask if there was something that could have been done to change the outcome of Bill’s illness. It is appropriate to ask if there was more we could have done for Bill during the time we had with him. These, and similar, questions touch on the most important and the most puzzling aspects of human existence; for that reason, they are questions that have no complete and satisfying answers.
I’d like to suggest an answer to these and all similar questions. It is an answer that comes from God’s Word rather than from human reason. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn. 12:24)
Jesus was speaking of his death and God’s offer of redemption that would be manifest in his resurrection and made actual in Baptism. Jesus died in faithfulness to God’s will. God raised him up as vindication of Jesus’ faithfulness. In the Baptismal covenant, we are made sharers in that vindication and heirs to the Resurrection. Through Baptism, God plants in our hearts the seeds of eternity. We believe that, by God’s power, the good God plants in our hearts touches eternity itself, even though we die. This is the Faith that Bill professed. This is the Faith that Bill taught to others. This is the Faith that Bill made possible to those whom he baptized. It is also the only reliable source we have for an answer to life’s most pressing questions.
I’d like to suggest that the only real answer available to us about the deepest and most vexing questions in life is to be grateful and to forgive. In Baptism, we are given gifts from God beyond our abilities to comprehend; the only appropriate response to God’s graciousness is to be grateful. In Baptism, we are forgiven all our sins; the only appropriate response to God’s compassion is to grant forgiveness to others.
Deacon Bill both taught and practiced this Faith. He was profoundly aware of the many blessings given to him by God, most of whom are seated here before me. His response to God’s favor, was to be profoundly grateful for his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his extended family, and his friends.
Bill was fully familiar with forgiveness, as well. His life afforded him many opportunities to learn to forgive. He faced those with charity and faith. Like all of us, he worked through disappointment and loss; out of the mixed blessings that all people receive in life, Bill made a happy, stable, and faithful life for himself and his family.
The answer to life’s plaguing mysteries is a practical response rather than a completely satisfying explanation: it is the requirement of our Faith that we live with gratitude and forgiveness in our hearts. I’d like to suggest to you, who are Bill’s family and friends, that you approach the event of his death with gratitude and forgiveness. You know well all the blessings for which you are, and should be, grateful. You know well the sorrows and losses that need to be forgiven.
The death of a loved one is one of those tragic events that puts us face to face with abstract questions about significant issues. The limited nature of the world in which we live can be a cause for despair; many people find that tragedy and loss are burdens too difficult to carry. For people of faith, however, the limited nature of human existence has an entirely different meaning. For people of faith, the limited nature of human existence and the limited amount of good and evil that we experience, are signs that point beyond what the eye can see.
As the Gospel says, in Jesus’ death, human nature was made able to bear fruit that can last eternally. We place our faith and hope in this promise from God: what God sows in our hearts in this life, even though it dies, will last forever in the Resurrection.
While we await the Resurrection, that is, the promise of new life given to us in Baptism, we hold onto the gifts of love and life that come to us from God’s hands. Bill was one such gift to all of us.
Be grateful for all the good that Bill brought to you and forgive the universe for his death. To do so is to experience the enduring presence of God in the midst of a world that is passing away.
Bill, we will miss you. We cherished you. We’re grateful for your affection and your example of faith. We will see you again, on the day of Resurrection. On that great day, we will rejoice together, and it will be your turn to buy lunch at El Gallo.