In my first few months as pastor at Holy Name of Mary, I asked if we could do something about our sound system, because there is an echo in our church and I have an accent. When you combine those two things, I cannot be understood. The first person who came forward to help with the project was Gene. He is the only person I know of who had his own personal Assisted Listening Device so he could understand every word I said. He loved listening to God’s word.
When I was looking at the grounds today at English Meadows Elks Home Campus, I noticed the difference compared to driving here at night. We all know the reason the town of Bedford earned the title “Christmas Capital of Virginia” is because of the beautiful display of lights here during the Christmas season.
If you had friends visiting from out of town and you were to bring them here on a dark rainy December afternoon, they might ask, “What lights?” But if you just wait a few hours, this seemingly lifeless compound will come alive with light. Gene loved watching these lights.
I had the privilege of doing the blessing of the lights this year with Father Steve McNally. I saw Gene in his motorized wheelchair, greeting everyone who was there. He was a very pleasant person to talk to. He looked out and said, “Once again, this compound will come alive.”
Gene, who was a member of our parish for over 6 years, knew that in our church we never use the word “death” when someone dies. We always say that our brother or sister was born into life eternal. “Death” denotes the loss of life, but “birth into life eternal” is the beginning of a life that will never end in the company of the angels and the saints.
For those who don’t look at death the same way we do, they may liken death to the Elks Home on a dark, rainy December afternoon. It’s lifeless. But we believe in the words of our Lord and Savior: “I shall take you with me, so that where I am, you also may be.” When his friend Lazarus died, Lazarus’s sister Martha was so sad that he wasn’t there for her brother. But he told her, “He who believes in me will never die.”
In today’s first reading, we heard from the book of Wisdom: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead, and their passing away was thought an affliction, and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.”
With these words in mind, we can look at death like visiting the Elks Home on a bright peaceful December night when all these lights come alive.
When I heard of Gene’s passing in the silence of the night 8 days ago, the song “Silent Night” flashed into my mind. This is my favorite Christmas song. I play it every time I look at the Elks Home display of lights, every single year. I listen to the words as I watch all those beautiful displays – the atmosphere that reminds us of the joy of the season of the coming celebration of the birthday of our Savior. “Silent night, holy night, all is calm all is bright.”
Our brother Gene left this world calmly and silently. But that was the holiest moment of his life. For it is the same Jesus, whose words in the sacred scriptures he has listened to all his life, the same Jesus, whose body, blood, soul and divinity he received just a few hours before he was born into life eternal – it is the same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who welcomes him into the bright and beautiful lights of his eternal kingdom where no eyes have seen nor ears have heard.