Funeral Homily for Germain Grisez

The accomplishments of Germain Grisez during his many years of service to the Church as a philosopher and theologian are absolutely stunning. I could go on at length about them . . . but this is not the time for that. Still less is it a time to take Germain’s salvation for granted, which would mean depriving him of prayer. What a terrible thing to do to anyone, especially at a funeral liturgy! My priest brother, Fr. Bill Ryan, also a dear friend of Germain’s—he knew him well before I did and even introduced me to him—warned me sternly: “No canonization eulogy, or you will likely hear a bellow from the other side.”

We are here, instead, to celebrate the Mass of Christian burial of a child of God. To celebrate properly, we need to pause for a moment and consider what life and death are all about. Fortunately, the readings we just heard, which Germain himself chose, are perfectly suited to help us do that. He even went further and left notes for the homily! He wanted to make sure that the message of these readings would be crystal clear, so that we, too, would profit from this occasion of grace. I want you to receive Germain’s message from the grave exactly as he wrote it, so I’ll insert brief quotations at strategic points.

The first reading offers profound insight into our present situation and God’s ultimate plan. Isaiah prophesies, “On this mountain,” the Lord “will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations.” What is that veil, that web? Sin and death! They blind people to God’s plan, which is for us to enjoy everlasting life in the kingdom he is establishing, where all our tears will be wiped away.

Germain puts it this way:

Sooner or later, all of us will die. At present, God’s plan for his kingdom is not obvious. Sin and death hide it from fallen humankind, so that only those with faith are aware of it. But eventually God will destroy sin and death, and there will be no more suffering, nothing to cry about. Then the error of unbelief will be obvious, and those who not only believed but lived their faith and died in Christ will be proved correct.

Germain is saying that the only way to make sense of this world, which has been corrupted by sin and death, is through faith in what God has revealed—namely, his plan to overcome these problems by blessing with eternal joy those who live and die in Christ. Then it will be clear both to those who find salvation and those who do not that there can be no greater foolishness than to reject the gift of faith or fail to live it out.

I would add that those who remain faithful will know the truth proclaimed in the brief reading from the Book of Revelation: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” The psalm refrain we sang together expresses that blessedness with the confident hope that everyone who lives a faithful life ought to have: “I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.”

Germain Grisez

Germain explains it this way:

They will celebrate having been saved by God’s grace through faith. The new earth and new heaven God brings about will be their home, and they will walk in the presence of the Lord in that land of the living.

The reading from Revelation also proclaims “Let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.” Germain capitalizes on this point by referring to Gaudium et spes, 39, his favorite passage from Vatican II and, I’d say, his favorite passage from all of Church teaching. He writes:

Having completed the work God called them to do in this world, they will find rest. Moreover, their works will accompany them, and they will find once more, in the land of the living, all the good fruits of their nature and effort—but cleansed of all dirt, lit up, and transformed.

In other words, it’s not just our bodies that will rise. Somehow all the good we have done in our bodies will also be incorporated into the kingdom. This gives us insight into the question of why God doesn’t just create us already happy with him forever in heaven without having to live out our lives in this fallen world, in which he allows the corruption of sin and death. The answer is that life in this world is the time for us to construct our character. God could have prevented sin, but then he couldn’t have brought about the kingdom he had in mind—a heaven peopled by the unique saints who became such by cooperating with God’s grace as it was uniquely offered to them. We couldn’t have had a Mother Teresa if God did not allow there to be people in need to whom she was called and equipped to respond. And if the Lord did not allow evils in our lives and bless us with the gifts and opportunities we need to respond well, we would not be able, by cooperating with grace, to become and forever be the unique saints he calls us to be. We have the opportunity to become far nobler than we ever could have been had God not allowed those evils—evils that he will one day entirely wipe away!

The Isaiah reading invites us to see that the joy of the saved is communal. Every saint is unique, but in the kingdom they rejoice in their life as a diversified community! The prophet has the blessed proclaiming, “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

Germain reflects on this communal joy and ties it to Jesus’ exhortation that we be prepared for his return—and so for our own death—to come at any time, like a thief in the night. The prospect of entering into that intense and everlasting communal joy, which we could miss out on if we do not remain faithful, should motivate us to be prepared!

Germain puts it this way:

[The saved] will find once again their loved ones and friends. Their good relationships will be perfected and carried on forever and ever in a celebration at which they will be guests and Jesus the host. And, as God’s children, they will share in Jesus’ intimacy with his Father and Holy Spirit. So, with such endless joy in prospect, we should always be ready—and also be willing—to die.

Is it possible to ask for a greater fulfillment? But the key is to be ready—ready to die. I believe Germain was ready, but I don’t want to take anything for granted. I don’t want to hear any bellows from the other side! So I urge all of us to pray intently for him. Let’s ask the Lord to take him to himself, for Germain’s everlasting benefit and also for ours—for those who are with the Lord can do great good for those of us who remain in this troubled world.

I have to confess that the good I would like Germain to do for me is something that, as he told me a couple weeks before he died, doesn’t seem to be allowed. We have been working for some years on a book on eschatology, which is of course the study of what happens when we leave this vale of tears. It’s about death and the coming of the Lord, about the resurrection of the dead and the new heavens and new earth, about judgment, heaven, and hell. We have visited and talked and Skyped with each other many times to discuss these topics—and what I would give for a Skype connection with Germain now! Just one more conversation! For now he knows so much more!

But appealing as that is, far more important are our prayers for him and, God willing, his for us.

Germain—father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, mentor, friend—may you rest in peace. And may the Lord grant you and all of us the grace to remain faithful so that one day, as the Easter hymn that you love so much puts it, Jesus will “make us rise From the life of this corruption to the life that never dies.”