Delivered by Father Tim Cuny, O.S.A., at St. Clare of Montefalco Parish in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, on Thursday, September 11, 2014
The Very Rev. David Lloyd Brecht, O.S.A, had a great gift as homilist-speaker. Many of you heard him speak at the Augustinian Gala last April. In reality, David misunderstood that he could speak for as long as he wanted, so he prepared a 45 minute talk about his life! When the two previous speakers spoke only 5 minutes each, David realized his mistake. So on his way to the speaker's platform, David cut his talk down to 5 minutes. That 5 minute talk about his “wonderful” life was truly impressive & memorable!
I want inform you, I have no such talent; 45 minutes is about my average! No one has ever accused me of a “short” homily. I don’t think David appointed me to be the homilist at his funeral because of any skill I may have with words, nor my brilliance as a theologian. I think he wanted this funeral to celebrate his life, be joyful and personal. I will proceed on that assumption.
My first job as homilist, I believe, is to express the sympathy of everyone here to David’s family. Look around you. All of us are here to support the families who will miss David.
- First, his birth family, his five brothers and one sister: John, Paul, Ann, Tom, Mark and Gregory. (One could see Ann, having so many brothers, as the “rose between the thorns.”)
- Secondly, his chosen family: the Augustinians, and
- Thirdly, the many families David was sent to serve, most recently: St Clare Parish, Austin Catholic High School, and Saints Francis & Maximillian Parish.
We ALL come to support these families and one another. However, the fact is that we are all helpless in face of death. There is nothing we can say or do that would be adequate to express our sympathy, nor to console the bereaved.
I was with David in his last months, and during his last night on this on this earth, however, not at his final moment. Since I had a Saturday evening Mass, I asked his brother Paul to come to look after him for me. David died during the time I was celebrating Mass. When I returned to the Condo, I went into his room to visit him, and all I could do was weep. Understand that David and I had talked about his dying for months, we were both ready for it, but the feeling was just overwhelming… all I could do was cry. And perhaps, that’s all any of us can do when confronted with the death of a loved one. Or are actually we “graced” to do more?
As we gather as a Church for worship, we express and share great faith & hope together. We just heard that the “the souls of just are in the hands of God, and no fear or torment can touch them anymore” (Wisdom, 3). David had enough trust in that promise, to enable him to “sign the hospice document,” where he asked not to be resuscitated and not to prolong his life without good hope of recovery. With his signature, he put the final exclamation point on his whole life of faith. He firmly hoped for, as Sr. Kathy wrote in a card David never saw, “a delightful trip into the arms of God’s loving embrace.” We too believe that the souls of the just among us will be gathered into God’s loving embrace. That is the faith we hold. That is the faith we can share in support of one another in this Church. And it is politically correct to do so!
It has been many long years since David was in the fourth grade, but that’s where I want to start my reflection. His mother must have seen some budding gift for music in David when she started him on piano lessons in fourth grade. By the eighth grade, David was attending the Palestrina Institute studying sacred music & Gregorian chant. That’s where he earned the title: “chant wack.” I suspect that Sacred Music and Chant caught the attention of David’s “restless heart,” and started him pondering his eventual vocational choice.
His mother also saw David’s gift for cooking. She not only let him into her kitchen, but encouraged him to try. Then when she became bedridden in the hospital, about the time Gregory was born, David, the oldest son, readily took over most of the family cooking and house chores. His mother also taught her other children to cook, but David “humbly admitted” that he was the best cook of them all!
By high school, David had already discovered he was given a gift for studies. At Austin Catholic High School, [the old one on Warren Avenue, Detroit] he excelled academically, as a senior winning three achievement medals for scholarship, religion, and music. But David was providentially attracted to the O.S.A.'s. He joined the Augustinians, the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel, at the ripe old age of 17 in 1957 – the same year he graduated from Austin – and he never looked back. Coincidentally, yesterday September 10th, was the 57th Anniversary of David’s first profession of the vows of religious life.
Acknowledging his mastery of philosophy, everyone at Tolentine College knew who to talk with when we “hit the wall” in Philosophy class. David was always willing to exercise his gift for teaching by explaining the syllogisms and obscure conundrums he knew so well. He eventually took that gift to a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, two Master’s degrees (Classical Languages – Latin & Greek, and Education) and a PhD in Educational Administration.
There is one more gift David had to try – athleticism. With all those brothers around, he got into many pickup backyard baseball games. I suspect his brothers were getting even with him, because David had so much talent for piano, his mother made his brothers take lessons, too. That really cut into their baseball time. So they gave David a special baseball name: “the Statue.” They tell me that for in his entire baseball career, David never swung the bat. Athleticism was one gift David just did not have!
The second reading of this funeral Mass was from the Mass of St. Augustine’s Feast Day, August 28th. I chose it because I considered David to be a TRUE celibate, i.e., one who took seriously the Word to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your heart.” That is the way to the Kingdom no matter which of the three vocational choices we follow. David never seemed to tire of giving himself, his gifts, and talents, totally, to the people of every family he ever served. He became “a living sacrifice,” giving his body and spirit to God and others as “his spiritual worship.”
Now in order to love others as Jesus loved us, one has to grow very close to God, to experience the Father’s great love for us. David became an adopted son at his Baptism, but through his gift for contemplative prayer, he was led to love the Father, just as Jesus (who still offers His Body for us) did in a living, humble obedience to the Father. His dying was the final offering of his body to the God he loved and served. That is what celibates do!
I surmise that David was born to be a celibate. He grew up in a large family, very perceptively seeing his father and mother’s struggles to provide shelter, food, and clothing, a religious formation and an education, all the while keeping an eye on him and his siblings to correct them and help them grow. When he considered his vocational choice from this background, celibacy must’ve looked pretty good!
Everyone who ever walked into David’s room, was awed by gift for beauty. His furniture, his matching drapes, his color schemes, his flowers, his music, his apparel, and the meals he served, all expressed his love of beauty. And he could sit for hours gazing out over the beauty of Lake St. Clair or any of the Great Lakes. When I realized that David’s love of beauty stemmed from his contemplative prayer-union with God, I came to understand. Following SPNA [the Latin initials for "Our Holy Father Saint Augustine"], David sought the beauty of the Creator in His created things. David was actually practicing, or restless for, the real vision of God’s beauty, the beatific vision!
St. Paul says in the reading from the letter to the Romans: “Let your love be genuine.” As David sat at “his” bench in the park, people often stopped to talk with him. Though he may have secretly wished that you would let him be alone (with God), he responded to all who “bothered him” with genuine love. I believe that the source of his caring presence for all of us was a product of his union with God. Perhaps that is why so many of us were drawn to him… his smile radiated God’s love for us. I’ll bet many of his Austin Catholic students would agree.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches us the purpose for which we are here: “In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you, so I will return and take you to Myself, so that where I am, you also (with Me) may dwell.” During the course of his life, David lived in, and used his various gifts to build up, many of God’s dwelling places. The names of these places, and his time at each of them, is now the history of our Province:
- Mendel Catholic High School, Tolentine College, Villanova University,
- St. Rita High School, Cascia Hall, Provincial [of the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel],
- Our Augustinian Peruvian Mission, St. Jude Parish,
- St Clare of Montefalco Parish, Villanova College in King City, and
- Austin Catholic High School (the new one).
And in every community in which he lived, David carried heavy responsibilities. Yet he always made time on special occasions to cook us a gourmet meal. It was a special gift that our major superior should literally cook our meal, wait on our tables, then wash our dishes. Wasn’t there something in the Gospels about an ideal Servant of God who came to serve, not to be served?
Jesus also taught: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Last Saturday, true to His promise, our Lord returned to take David to live with Him. I suspect that when the Master asks how he used the five gifts or talents he received from God, David might respond: “Drat it! I couldn’t bring the Brinks truck with me!”
David lived, preached, and taught, this faith, this hope, this hunger for the Way, Truth, and Life. That is the consolation of our faith, which we can share in support of one another. It is the only real faith, hope, and consolation we have in this passing world.
And finally… when I showed David the Funeral Ritual I had prepared for him, he was adamant that I had left out 4 things he wanted: the three Latin Gregorian Chants, (I want them!) and one quote from St. Augustine. He assured me that the first senior class of Austin Catholic High School, to whom he taught our Augustinian heritage, would remember the chapter and verse it comes from, in the Confessions of St. Augustine:
“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they rest in You.”