Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Funeral Homily of a Priest-Nephew of Richard Fisher and A Eulogy by His Son

Richard Fisher. 

 Funeral Homily for Dick Fisher 
Light of the World Catholic Church 
March 20, 2014 

“Johnny, drop your frog just off the tip of that log.” 

Somehow, the highest pressure words I think I’ve ever known. As soon as he’d say it, I could almost guarantee where my frog would end up: wrapped, six or seven times, around a branch… nowhere near the spot. In varying degrees of calmness and frustration, Uncle Dick would quickly recover, drop his frog ‘just off the tip of that log,’ and show me, fish on the line, exactly why he liked the spot. 

Uncle Dick. As good a fisherman – and probably as good a man – as any of us will ever know. On the water, as much as everywhere else in life, he was a man of the fundamentals: patience and clear vision to survey the scene, conviction and consistency once he knew his spot, and, of course, dead-on accuracy with every cast. 

I don’t know who took that photo of him in the worship aid, but anybody who ever sat in that canoe with Dick knows the feeling of the one behind the camera: “Boy, is he good.”  And as I said, it wasn’t just at fishing. Dick Fisher: good with people, good with family – especially good with family – good with struggles, good with the law, good with adversity. And good with God! He was constant in his effort to keep the Lord at the center. Dick was good in his faith, regular with prayer and the sacraments. He passed away on Saturday, Our Lady’s day, having gone to confession and Mass that very morning. And after having prayed three rosaries! Are you kidding me? That’s like my dream. For all of us, what a tremendous consolation as we sit here and grapple with that inevitable weight, the sadness of grief. By his faith, he made St. Paul’s words his own: “I have competed well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 

You know, Aunt Kath, you’re not alone: none of us wants to imagine life without Dick. He was just such a fixture in so many lives. As together we remember him this morning, there are two helpful concepts we have to hold close: legacy and communion. In the Gospel passage we just heard, Christ speaks of His departure as He prepares His 
disciples to live the legacy of His teachings, preparing them for life after He is gone. I like to call John’s Gospel the legacy Gospel. Just a couple of chapters earlier, Christ began turning the disciples’ attention to this very topic: “Amen, amen, I say to you, 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.” 

At the passing of one we love, we’re jostled into a keen sense of what we’re now without. We’re awakened to a better awareness of what we received from them. And we ask ourselves, “Now what?” The passing of someone like Dick has to awaken in all of us, and especially in you, Fishers, a keen sense of blessedness. And when the blessing of another is so deeply rooted in faith, we can be certain that their influence in our lives is not finished when our time together on earth is. The legacy of our beloved dead, Dick’s legacy, is seen in the fruitfulness of our lives, lives that would not be what they are without the part he played. 

By the love, faith, and friendship we all shared with Uncle Dick, seeds of goodness were sown deep in our souls. As he leaves us here, our eyes are opened and those seeds are watered. It falls to us now to honor him by carrying forth the goodness of what he gave us, allowing his effect on each of us to bear fruit in the way we live. Legacy. 

After legacy, communion. Although we don’t hear of it as much anymore, traditionally 
when we spoke of the Church we spoke of a distinction between the Church militant and the Church triumphant. It’s a helpful distinction actually. The Church triumphant is 
comprised of those who are in heaven, having achieved eternal blessedness. The church militant remains behind, still on the way, journeying through the ups and downs of life. But it’s one Church. And that means we share a deep and a real communion. We are one Body in Christ. 

Our part of the Church has a job to do today. Our task is to muster all the strength of our souls and do what this side of the Church does best: offer the powerful sacrifice of the Mass, and call upon the assistance of all the angels and saints, as we beg for the eternal rest of our beloved one. 

The funeral Mass is perhaps the most profound meeting place of heaven and earth, Church militant and Church triumphant. Today, formally, we come to the end of our earthly walk with Dick. In thanksgiving as much as in intercession, we hand him off to those who have gone before us, asking in this Mass the power of their intercession as together we call upon God’s mercy. 

From now on, our prayer contends, Dick is one with the faithful departed. What confidence we gain by the sacramental grace that adorned his life, even to that last day. He died in Christ. My spiritual director used to point out a basic theological fact: that in life, we can be separated from Christ, but those who have died in Christ can no longer be separated from Him. And that means, in a real, mystical way, whenever we encounter Christ in the Eucharist we encounter all those who cannot be separated from Him. What a powerful change that awareness introduces into the way we adore our Lord and commune with Him in the Eucharist! In communion with Christ, we encounter all those who are with Him. In the midst of grief, such solace in the communion of the Church, heaven and earth, embodied in the Eucharist! 

And so communion and legacy come together: from now on, we honor Dick by letting his life bear fruit in the way we live ours. And we do so most fruitfully, after his example, by the surpassing grace of the Eucharist in the midst of the Church. Legacy and communion. 

Before I finish, I can’t help but go back up north. I remember, so many times, pulling the canoe off the trailer and often through the woods. I always waited for Uncle Dick’s reaction when we got to the lake, because I knew that he knew – at just a glance – how the evening would go. 

When everything was just right – mostly calm, a ripple of wind, nobody else on the water – those blue eyes would sparkle, and his face would crease into a smile. Standing at the water’s edge, taking it all in, tranquility and adventure in his voice, he’d always say, “Boy… will ya look at that?” 

We’re pilgrims, in this life, never quite at home, eyes of faith set on the horizon of eternity. St. Paul said it for us: “we await with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God,” our hope “full of immortality.” We spend life longing, with love, to finally see the face of God. 

Up north, somehow Uncle Dick always beat me to the water. It was his reaction that told me everything. One again, and for one last time, he’s beat me to the end of the trail. I can only imagine his reaction, please God, as he sets his eyes not on the waters of Helen or Snapjack, but finally on the face of God... a sparkle in his eyes brighter than all the others, a deep, rejoicing smile of the soul, and in a happy whisper, “Boy… will ya look at that?”

* * * * * * * * * * * 

[Another Eulogy by his son]

To his Avon, MN cousins he was “Dickie”. To his baseball buddies he was “Fish”.  For his grandchildren only “Papa” fit.  To my mom “Julie Baby”, in reference to his middle name of Julius, which he never cared for, or “Dickie Poppins”, due to his being like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.  For us children, he was “Dad”.  It was and is a name that conjures up so much warmth, a steady love and a sparkle of blue eyes.   Dad had a lot of nicknames because he had a lot of admirers among friends and family.  That’s what happens when you are a good man. 

Who was Dad? How do I possibly encapsulate and honor 86 and a half years that spanned the child of the depression, the ballplayer and Navy man of WWII, the law student and steel industry lawyer of America’s industrial golden age, The corporate counsel and treasurer of the 60’s and 70’s who decided to leave all that and to start his own mergers and acquisitions firm in a dusty ol’ cow town at the foot of the Rockies; the man who, when he had already lived in half a life what would suffice as full life for most, rewrote the script halfway through, married a girl with a flashing smile and a strength of soul that dazzled him to the end of his days and became a family man.  Not just any family man, but a father 8! How do you encapsulate that?  As I struggled to come up with the right words, I finally realized, you don’t.  You can’t.  All you can do is try and relate what he meant to you and how the people around him knew him.  And what we take forward with us in the years ahead when we think of him.

Many impressions leap immediately to mind.  His love of good dogs, twilight golfing, Bass fishing, root beer floats and ice cream, buying bouquets of flowers for my mom unannounced, noisy houses stuffed to the gills with family and friends,  turned rosary beads, Charles Russell and the American West, unsolicited hugs, symphonies and a snickers bar.

But what was the essence of dad?  This too is impossible, but some anecdotes about him bring clarity.

That he was fearless, in his ability to strike out and make his own way, never doubting that if he uprooted his wife and 4 kids, loaded them in a wooden paneled station wagon and trekked half a country away to an open West that his heart had already adopted as a young man that he would make a good life for them. 

That as a 10 year old in Avon, MN he would get up at 5:30 every below-zero winter morning and skate around Middle Spunk lake near his house to check the muskrat traps he’d set the night before so he could sell their pelts for money.  While most of his friends quickly spent theirs on candy, dad was the only kid in town who at the age of 12 became the proud owner of a bike he’d bought himself. That he could make perfect bacon every time and that he could take a can of V8, cloves, bay leafs and the nondescript leftovers of a refrigerator veggie drawer and in hours have a symphony of taste that would be insulting to call mere soup, and would entice all the kids friends to suddenly show up at the door.

That he could spin stories of his life that never changed any of the basic facts, but always had enhanced attributes that made them better over time.

That for him every person was to be respected and none to be feared.   Janitor or CEO, Socialite or waitress, Bishop or brother.  All were treated on a level field.  And were sure to get his honest opinion if asked, and where merited, if not asked.

That whenever a work deal fell through, even if at the eleventh hour and 3 years in the making, the minute after hanging up that call, he would get right on the phone again calling out to new business prospects.

That even though every single grandchild knew where all his “secret candy stashes” were, he continued to restock them in place.  Pretending he never noticed the banditry. 

That to me takes true character.

Still, all of these just catch the flavor, but really don’t get to the core.  Until in recounting Dad, my brother Tom hit on it.

Ora et Labora – Work and Pray.  That was Dad’s motto; the Benedictine motto. It was simple and so was he.   Things are not as complex as we make them.  Serve God and others: Love God and others.
Dad’s last day on earth was a perfect encapsulation of this principle.  He woke and, as was his daily ritual, went to mass.  Dad prided himself in being a daily communicate, modeling himself after his hero, Thomas More.  More exhorted: “I have much very important business to handle and I need light and wisdom; it is for this reason that I go to Holy Communion every day to consult Jesus about them." And I think Dad assumed he was talking directly to him, as it was a lifelong practice.

 It was Saturday so after mass he went to confession (Once when asked by a priest he knew why he went so frequently, Dad quipped “ I’ve got the same Devil after me that you do, Father.”)  After confession he said three rosaries by the family’s count. Again another hallmark of Dad who, like his dad before him, were deeply devoted to the Blessed Mother and the rosary.  He said the Angelus with Mom and then, always needing to be “doing” and “going”, he enlisted my sister’s fiancé Marshall to help him “borrow” some left over scrap-wood from a construction site for his firewood pile.  Upon returning to the house, he asked to be dropped off at the mailbox.  And that was where he passed and was found surrounded by a pile of mail.  …Attending to the business of the day.  How fitting for Dad, the dogged worker.  Ora et Labora.  Work and Pray.  Simple.  Not showy.  Just good.  St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.”  That was Dad.  His words carried weight because he lived them.
 I think that’s why Dad was so looked up to by many who knew him.  They knew he was a man of his word and honor.  On the phone earlier this week, one of his longtime associates, a 97 year entrepreneur from Texas drawled between teary words “Yer daad waz the most hahnest biziniss man Ah’d ever werked with”.  St. Thomas More also said, “If honor were profitable, everybody would be honorable.”  Dad heeded the warning and sought honesty first.  Others felt that.  He always looked to and walked with Christ daily.  He just wanted to be able to look himself in the mirror every night and to know that he was God’s friend.

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love  than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  
You are my friends if you do what I
command you. John 15: 8-14

Dad was God’s friend.  And he tried to love others as his Lord loved him.  He laid his life down for others and his family daily.  He loved my mother faithfully and totally.  He loved my siblings and me selflessly and completely.  He delighted in our children and spouses.  But he loved God most of all.  And now he’s with him.  

As a final thought, on more than one occasion Dad said to me, “I don’t know what heaven will look like, Chris, but I know who will be there!”  He meant of course all the best souls he’d met and read about and admired in his life.  Looking out, I see the faces of many he loved.  This is a good crowd.  Anyone would be blessed to call this group their friends and family.  How blessed then must my Dad be, in his current company?  How happy a thought. 

By your prayers, help us all to see you again Dad.  Thank you for your life and example.  We miss you and love you.  Or, to steal your own words to us kids as you’d tuck us in each night, “I love you and I like you.”

No comments: