June 04, 2012

Sermon at the funeral of Thomas Gravelle

A Funeral Mass for my son, Thomas James Gravelle, was held on Friday, June 1, 2012, at St. John Brebeuf Catholic Church in Erin, Ontario.

The scripture readings were from the Book of Wisdom, 3: 1-9 (The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God); from Psalm 116 (I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living); from the First Letter of John, 3: 1-2 (We are already the children of God) and from the Gospel of Luke, 24: 13-35 (Were not our hearts burning within us?).

Fr. Joe Kelly, a Spiritan priest, has been our pastor for the last ten years. Before that he worked for 32 years at Neil McNeil High School in Toronto, as a teacher and counsellor. Here are his words from our celebration of Tom's life:

When I arrived at the funeral home last night and first stood beside the casket, I found myself inwardly talking to Thomas. I tend to do this at funerals of people I knew and liked.

I realised that if Thomas and I were to discuss what I would say today, we might disagree, so I want to be respectful to this very intelligent and highly articulate young man. I will still express my beliefs and what I think are yours, but if Thomas were here to challenge me on any particular point, I think his superior word-power would win out!

So last night, I went home and, while not changing the general thrust of what I had intended to say, I did change the wording here and there. It is in this frame of mind that I begin.

“You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.”

I think that we have to try to understand as best we can the things that have happened here in Erin these last few days. I am not sure that is really possible, because even Thomas himself tacitly admits that his world-view was somewhat singular.

Perhaps we can only compare his life and ours by analogy, and I hope to find analogies in the passages of scripture we have read, to enable us to come to some understanding. Also, I am privileged to have been allowed to read the last letter Thomas wrote to you, his friends.

Wisdom says: “Their going looked like a disaster, their leaving us like annihilation, but they are at peace.” Thomas says that now he will finally be at peace.

However, he sees himself as being “nought,” whereas we believe that the peace he hopes for is to be found in a return to the God who created him.

Thomas did see meaning and beauty in the world; he did see wonder and fascination in people; therefore he found it hard leaving you, his friends; he appreciated your friendship and support, and of course the support and love of his parents and family; it was the contradictions inherent in the realities of life that he could not brook.

For Thomas, “the light that reveals the wonder, leaves dark the horror.” I think it is therefore important for family and friends to realise that they were, or I should say, are still loved by Thomas.

The journey to Emmaus is relevant here. Thomas’s journey of mental illness was ten years long, he himself has said. Therefore he did not see it as going back to the beginning of his life.  He was baptized in this church building on April 17, 1988, God’s child. “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children, and that is what we are.”

On December 4, 2001, about three months after I arrived here in Erin, I witnessed Thomas receiving right here the sacrament of Confirmation. I probably had some small part in preparing him for that.

As a young man, he strove to bring about justice in the world, and he was a person with high ideals. We also reject structures that are unjust, but we at the same time believe that the Christ is walking with us, and that belief sustains us.

The two disciples on the road failed to see Jesus in the man who walked with them, and yet the things he told them stirred their hearts. On the road that Thomas walked, it would seem that a veil prevented him from recognising that presence. 

But Thomas was still a child of God, still loved by God with that unconditional love with which God loves Thomas and all of God’s children. It was incumbent on us to see the Christ in Thomas.

We serve Jesus in others, and surely we serve Jesus best in serving the one who suffers. Therefore those who supported Thomas along his often difficult, painful road, served the Christ in him. The two disciples “told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him in the breaking of the bread.”

We have come here to break the bread together and to recognise the Christ in one another. Thomas often in the past broke the bread with us in this building.

Let us pray that the light he sees now, removes completely the darkness that made life so difficult for him, and that the merciful God who came to him in water and spirit, in bread and wine, and in us, his sisters and brothers, that this loving God may now receive him home.