† Funeral Homily for Father Marcin †

March 12, 2020

My homily I was blessed to give at the funeral of Father Marcin Zahuta on March 12, 2020

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).
The “timing” of what happened 13 days ago will perhaps never make sense, because when we think of “timing”, we typically think of chronos (linear time) rather than kairos (God’s time). But again, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot produce fruit. 
And there is absolutely no doubt that we need new life and fruit in the Church right now with the heaviness of the past two years, let alone the past two weeks. But death itself is not a guarantee of fruit, it only means there is a potential for fruit. The grain of wheat has to fall upon or be implanted in fertile soil and watered to bear fruit.

The great question that many of us has been seeking these past days is: How will Marcin’s sudden and unexpected death bear fruit and be meaningful in our own lives? How will he become implanted in our minds, hearts, and souls.
In prayerfully seeking an answer I’ve been looking to the mountains.
I turn in prayer there, because Marcin enjoyed praying the rosary while walking the streets with his dog Punky, hiking the hills, and climbing mountains. Just this past summer, on the Portuguese portion of his Camino pilgrimage, he hiked roughly 190km over 10 days with a little more than a handful of students and individuals from his USC St. Thomas More community.

I look in prayer particularly to the mountains, because as Mark Toups states:
In the Bible, “Mountains are seen as holy, often as the place where God appears. This is important. [For] God wants to be known; God wants to reveal himself to us. Sometimes it is difficult to find God [in the mountains of life] - either because life isn’t easy, or we fail to resist temptation or because we believe the lies of the enemy. The ultimate temptation is to then believe: ‘God is not “here”. I’ll find God “somewhere” else.’”

To answer the question of How will Marcin’s passing bear fruit and be meaningful in our lives?, I invite you to climb and reflect on two mountains with me and Marcin, and to see what you see and behold, to see if God appears and reveals himself there.

The two mountains should be very familiar to us:
The FIRST, we heard in Sunday’s Gospel is Mount Tabor, the place and locus where Jesus was transfigured before the “big three” apostles: Peter, James, and John. 
The SECOND mountain we just heard in the Gospel is Calvary, AKA, Golgotha, the place of the skull of our progenitor, Adam.

While praying just 20 minutes before Mass, I realized that these two mountains are portrayed behind me now in the stain glass windows above the tabernacle here at St. Peter's.

The First Mountain: Tabor
What do we see, when we ascend Mount Tabor? As we heard Sunday, we behold Jesus, the light of the world (Jn 8:12) radiating as the beloved Son of the Father. “His face shone like the sun, and his cloths became white as light” (Mt 17:2). In that moment, Jesus is transformed before the eyes of the three apostles. In that moment, Jesus doesn’t change. Rather, their vision of Jesus changes. We know this because in the aftermath Jesus tells them to not tell anyone about their vision until the Son of Man has been raised. We know this because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).
Some of us had unforgettable “transfiguration” moments with Marcin. Moments we don’t want to forget. Moments that when we return to them in prayer, we say as St. Peter said on Mount Tabor: “Lord, it is good that we are here.” It’s over such moments that we don’t just want to “pitch a tent”, but strongly desire as King David did to build a house for the Lord, to enshrine and to memorialize such moments as blessings from the Lord (2 Sam 7).

My moment with Marcin
My moment with Marcin is neither a crazy exchange of words, nor piece of advice, nor does it involve his iconic laugh that I fear I will one day forget. My moment is the hour we spent two January’s ago on our knees in a makeshift Adoration chapel in Indianapolis before the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney praying for the needs of our campus ministries. There were no words, no food, no drink, no laughs shared that hour. We just remained on our knees. What an enlightening moment it was and still is that softened the burdens of our vocation and transformed them for a period into a joy and hope filled mission for God.
The Trappist monk, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis captures and delves more deeply into the similar shared transfiguration moment of the 3 apostles’ on mount Tabor, when he concludes: “Christianity is not a religion of the continual postponement of joy and delight, as some would like to caricature the Christian virtue of hope. The Transfiguration is the experience of the fullness of divine Presence, action, communication, and glory now, in our very midst, in this world of passingness and disappointment.” 
It is for this reason that the Transfiguration became a “hinge”, a moment of true “crisis”, a “turning point” that strengthened and “provided a firm foundation for hope”[1] for the “big 3” apostles – the “big 3” apostles who had previously been scandalized by Jesus’ prophesy of his impending hour on the cross on mount Calvary. Likewise, we too have “stumbled” these past days trying to find meaning in Marcin’s passion and death, in the cross he valiantly took up and fought to carry and follow the Lord with.

The Second Mountain: Calvary
It’s hard to climb, stand, and remain on mount Calvary, without a firm recollection of our transfiguration moment with Marcin on mount Tabor. 

For on Mount Calvary, Jesus is neither glowing, nor dazzling in white garments, nor flanked by Moses and Elijah, the paradigm of the Law and the Prophets. Instead, Jesus, our Paschal Lamb, is a bloody mess, he’s dirty, he’s been stripped naked, he’s lifted up on a cross, he is flanked by criminals – a good thief and a bad thief. 
Moreover, the light of mount Tabor has been replaced with darkness that covers mount Calvary and the earth until the 9th hour (Synoptics).

We know this darkness and its heaviness that cover this episode and Marcin’s episode all too well. In the darkness, we have collectively experienced an array of raw emotions: denial, shock, confusion, fear, sadness, rage. In it we have collectively experienced regret, self-pity, numbness, doubt, despair, chaos. In the darkness, we encounter the Biblical Tohu wa-bohu of the Genesis creation narrative (Genesis 1:2) that “describes the condition of the earth immediately before God creates light”[2] as being “without form” (KJV).

It’s easy to flee, escape, or get sucked into this “black hole” and to remain scattered and isolated rather than to gather in community and family.

It’s easy to run away, crawl down, and hide in the “rabbit holes” of Calvary that lead into an abyss of hopelessness where the threat of existentialism attempts to smother those fighting to be true believers.

But that which is “without form” can be transformed with the creation and existence of light. For those of us in darkness, we need to regularly recall and cherish the light of our Transfiguration moment with Marcin from mount Tabor to be able to behold him at Jesus’ side on mount Calvary. 
With our respective moments of light, Calvary can truly become as it does for Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist – the foretold hour and moment of glory and exaltation where Jesus is lifted up and given back to the Father. 
As our transfiguration moment becomes engrained in us, it’s light transforms the tohu wa-bohu, the wretched darkness and formlessness. 
It’s light transfigures our limited and human perspective to see and behold on Calvary what God revealed to Saint John, namely that with the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ salvation and the recreation of mankind into a new family with the bestowal of His Holy Spirit come about.
Or as we heard Saint Paul summarizes our new existence in Christ in Sunday’s 2nd reading: “he saves and calls us to a holy life, not according to our works, but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim 1:9).

Marcin now humbly lies suspended and elevated near the altar, no longer standing on earth nor yet standing with a glorified body in heaven. We pray in this Eucharist for Marcin that like the good thief he will enter paradise this day.

How will his sudden and unexpected death bear fruit and be meaningful in our lives? 

  • By our wholly and actively participating in this very Eucharist.

  • By our convergence and gathering around the altar of the crucified forming a new eclectic and diverse family of individuals that would never have come together under other circumstances. 

  • By our standing faithfully and courageously as John, Mary, and the other women transfixed and focused on Jesus did. 

  • By our remembering our own transfiguration moments with Marcin and witnessing to the light amidst the darkness.

  • And finally, by daily reliving our personal and collective story of recreation as the sons and daughters of God

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. †

[1] Office of Readings from St. Leo the Great on 2nd Sunday in Lent
[2] Wikipedia, “Tohu wa-bohu”.