In Remembrance

Grenier, Joseph

Homily for the Funeral of Bishop Joseph Grenier
January 30, 2016

Thank you all for being here with Rose and me today. And I thank you for our little community. Patti, Peggy and Debbie are all feeling this death in various ways, each having her own relationship with Joe as her bishop.
Together this week we sat at our kitchen table where we normally have our Eucharist together and we planned this funeral. We chose our Celtic Christian Eucharist or Mass, as the prayers in it are beautiful and very meaningful to us, we find comfort in them because they express the Faith in a uniquely Celtic way. These prayers are soft on the ears…
Almost 40 years ago Joe was introduced to my family. 35 years ago he married into it. His Franco-American mother called it “a mixed marriage!” Where I came from a mixed marriage was a Catholic and a Protestant! For her it was French and Irish. Both Joe and I had some cultural adjusting to do as we got comfortable with each other’s families. And we did, and we came to love and appreciate more and more what our families passed to us through our heritage--and our common inheritance was our Faith in God, and that God is indeed Love.
We here that word Love bandied about very nonchalantly in this world, with little thought to the true meaning, the deepest meaning of it. Little thought is given to what it means to live in love…to be guided by love, and the built-in obligations that come with truly loving…obligations that can be joyful, or difficult and self-sacrificial—going beyond ourselves for our beloved.

My family gave me a good foundation in the Faith and in loving but my friendship and marriage with Joe truly taught me the truth of the Scripture “God IS Love.” That was Joe’s motto in life, it was his “go-to” when times were good and when times were difficult. God is Love. He taught it with words because we talked all the time… He also taught it with his own silent patient abiding love for our daughter, and for me. He was a dad to many kids through the years, a counselor to troubled families and at-risk youth, as well as to those whose marriages were in trouble. He was spiritual father to many adults. One only needed to be around him a few hours to notice how very quiet he was. But like so many who are that quiet, STILL WATER RUNS DEEP. Joe was not a preacher. As St. Francis taught, preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words. Joe preached it by example, his life, his choices, his commitments, his dedication to empowering others in ministry. Many in this room know from personal experience that his joy was empowering others to discover their gifts and use them to serve God and neighbor.
His pastor’s heart put legalism aside in religion and embraced Charity. He was aware that, as St. John of the Cross wrote, IN THE TWILIGHT OF LIFE, WE WILL BE JUDGED ON LOVE… not on laws. He modelled himself after the Good Shepherd. For that reason he was not bound by legalism and empty ritual. In the Celtic Christian Church he wanted an emphasis on the domestic Church… the holiness of the family, and the celebration of Faith in the home, around the table, where all were welcome in a sacred Celtic hospitality—the hallmark of Celtic Christianity.

Flowing from that solid commitment to loving as he believed God wanted him to love, he penned a lengthy statement on homosexuality several years ago, and was determined that Celtic Christian hospitality, indeed all spiritual hospitality, reflected God’s Own love for us, and so it demanded equality and inclusivity, and without it we are frauds! All are welcome in the Celtic Christian Church, and that was Joe’s dream.

So this week, as we dealt with the shock of this sudden death, we worked on today’s liturgy together. I wanted it to reflect Joe’s own spirituality, his approach to the faith. The readings we just heard each capture a vital part of Joe’s personal spirituality.
The first reading from St. John…on the primacy of love in our life of Faith is exactly what he wanted to live, and he was successful at that.
The second reading was a particularly important choice, not only because it is one of the most hopeful Scripture readings we can cling to in a time of mourning and the grief to follow… but because Joe and I talked about this aspect of our faith very very often and more and more as he aged. He told me over and over that he didn’t want any part of some heaven that didn’t include our love, and didn’t include eternity with Rose. That was just it…he experienced heaven right here with us…he knew from his own life that heaven is intertwined with earth, not some pie in the sky future reward for law and order. Heaven is where God is, and God is everywhere, and God, as St. John stresses is discovered in love, and when we live in love we live in God—and that is heaven, or the foretaste of it in this realm. So Joe’s experience of love taught him that if this life is so filled with love, it can only be a hint of what is to come when our own baggage is set aside and we get out of God’s way and really give and receive love. So that second reading of Corinthians is on target here—eye has not seen, ear has not heard nor has the mind of man ever imagined what God has in store for those who love God…for those who get out of the way, who dump their inflated egos and self-centeredness and allow love to rule their lives. It is a conscious choice—or not. We can’t imagine, but if it can be so great here and now, Joe would say God’s got to top this—if we allow it.
Then we have that Christmas song we replaced the traditional psalm with—Do you hear what I hear? I only this year discovered that was Joe’s favorite Christmas carol. I never knew it, until I asked friends on FB what their favorite Christmas carol was. That’s when Joe mentioned it to me that Do You Hear What I hear was his favorite. I was surprised, until I began thinking of how he spent his days, each and every day.
He awoke early, did his ½ hour of Tae Kwon Do, then gave several hours to reading the works of Christian mystics, and praying. He became consumed with a desire to draw closer to God, and a few months ago told me that all he wanted anymore in life was to know Jesus Christ better. Most people don’t have that on their bucket list, but it was his entire list. He pursued this quest by the study of science and theology, in Catholic tradition which claims they complement rather than compete with one another. He wanted to know all that science was adding to our understanding of creation and he thanked God for all that and admitted he knew very little about this God he adored, this God to Whom he dedicated his life and existence. He longed to know God more, and science was one way he tried. Prayer was the other way.

Joe was looking, listening, seeking truth, while humbling admitting it was beyond the mind of humans to imagine this infinite God. Rather we learn about God from that book of creation…nature as God’s gift…looking around us and listening and seeing this beautiful world and all we can see now…knowing there is so much more …but we have a hint here and now… Do you hear what I hear, asks the singer of the song! Hearing with the ears of the heart, seeing with the eyes of the heart, the inner eye, that knows with a knowing far more profound than physical sight allows.

There’s a beautiful book, THE LITTLE PRINCE. It is one that has meant a great deal to Joe and me. Before we were married he wept because he loved me, and wanted a child together. He wept thinking that we’d never have that child because he was a faithful celibate priest. He told me that he wanted a child, and that he would name her Rose, after the beautiful flower in THE LITTLE PRINCE… a rose who was unique in all the world… As the story goes, a little fox taught this little prince about friendship and love and how it grows, and he taught the little prince how to treasure a rose he loved… The fox said “Words are a source of misunderstanding… It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." It was an ah-ha moment for the little prince. It was also very much part of Joe’s own inner journey from the legalism of his priestly life to a life of absolute love. And he wanted to name his child after the Rose he loved. Joe learned that it was only with his heart that he heard and saw rightly, only with his heart that he could make real sense of his theology, and he began listening and looking and seeking God with all his heart, right through his old age. Every book that came into our house these past few years has been about going deeper spiritually, learning to listen to God’s voice, in prayer, in conversations with others, in dreams, in life, in contemplative living, and yes, in theology as a way to understand faith. The mystics became his friends for it was all he wanted – to know Jesus Christ.

Do you hear what I hear? In his own way, that was Joe singing, and asking of us… Listen! Do you hear what I hear? Listen up! You will hear, you will see it…heaven is intertwined with earth.
Do you see what I see? That breastplate of St. Patrick which we began this liturgy with is a prayer to see with Christ’s eyes, and Joe saw with Christ’s eyes…the good in others, the tremendous potential, and as a confessor and spiritual director was KNOWN for his phrase “This is a positive thing!” Always putting the focus on positive growth in the spiritual life, rather than any emphasis on sin or failure. He saw what God saw in us, and made sure we knew it was a positive thing!

So, that brings us to the choice for this Gospel we just heard… old man Simeon who wanted only to see the saving power of God before he died. Joe was indeed that old man Simeon. He longed for Christ, to know him, to meet him, to recognize him. He longed for God, to be one with God.

Joe was ready spiritually, for a very long time, to go forward to God, as he so often put it in words to me. He was ready when God was. He didn’t want to leave us. He did not want to leave Rose or me. He was a very, very happy man and told me so daily. He was content with his life, and the choices he made to marry, and his joy in having his dream of Rose fulfilled in her birth—that joy had no bounds. He was and always will be proud of the woman she is, and the deep capacity for love she has. He was proud of her hospitality, and how she loves her friends. He was happy in our marriage, and he was happy in the Celtic Christian Church with its clergy and members and those they serve. He, like old Simeon, could honestly say “Now, Lord, you may let your servant go in peace according to your promise. For I have seen with my own eyes your salvation—YOUR TREMENDOUS LOVE FOR US ALL--displayed for all the peoples to see…” I HAVE SEEN IT, LORD, YOU CAN DISMISS YOUR SERVANT WHENEVER YOU ARE READY. That is the prayer of a holy man!
Many of my family and friends are asking me if I’m OK. The outpouring of love from across this country and our friends in Ireland and Europe has been staggering. I cry, yes, of course. I mourn, and I will grieve for the rest of my life, but not as one without hope. We are a people of Faith or we are not. It is a choice, pure and simple. I do cry, but I have to tell you I feel a strength this past week that has taken me by surprise, that can only be the Grace of God and I firmly believe it is shared in great part by Joe’s continued presence.

I believe in the Communion of Saints! Our people—those we’ve shared life with whom we love dearly live!!! Life is changed not ended. This is our Faith.

Last All Saints Day I wrote a hymn for our Church family and I never thought the words would mean so much to me. We have all lost loved ones to physical death. We all know this loss. It is part of life, physical death, and if we do not embrace that reality our lives will be hell—by choice. We are never alone, they are never far from us, and so I draw strength from this prayer:

To all our saints and ancestors
We raise our voice as one!
With gratitude and love for you
We praise all you have done!
Your lives, your love still guide us now,
We know that you are here.
We cherish memories, live in hope
And Faith that you are near.

We’re in Communion with our saints
So death will have no sting.
Alleluia! We shall rise!
And so, in Faith we sing!
In glory, you are close to God,
Yet with Christ you’ve remained
With us to pray, and light our way.
We seek what you’ve attained.

Glory to You Ancient One!
Glory to Your Name!
And glory to Your only Son,
Your Word Made Flesh Who came.
And glory to Your Spirit Who
Brings life that never ends.
It is that life we celebrate
Today, with all Your friends!

Alleluia! Alleluia!
To this hope we cling.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
‘tis Good News we bring!
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Saints and angels sing!
Oh Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let our voices ring!
Oh Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let our voices ring!





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