As I mentioned last week, I spent some of the time while snowed in sorting through some old papers. I found those humorous quotes from church announcements that I shared with you. I found something else too. I found the remarks I made at my father’s funeral at Notre Dame Catholic Church in Houston, Texas, nine years ago. I’d like to share those with you. This is what I said.
Good morning, and thank you for coming. I know it means a lot to dad, and it means a lot to us.
I would like to say a few words about Howard, about incarnation, and about the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Any of you here who were present at Howard and Virginia Lee’s 50th wedding anniversary 20 years ago may recall that I spoke then about how their life together was an incarnation of their wedding vows. I had come to an understanding of the meaning of incarnation in a sudden flash of insight one afternoon years earlier while working as a customs officer in San Ysidro, California. I was face to face with an importer who had merchandise to which some prohibition applied. The importer wanted to proceed unhindered and was not too subtle in suggesting that there might be something in it for me, if I let him. I did not, of course, or I would not be telling you this, but the insight that came to me during that moment as I insisted on the “letter of the law” as it were, was that the law and the regulations were just spots of ink on pieces of paper unless there was someone to give them effect, and that at that moment I was an incarnation of those particular laws and regulations. They, the printed pages, were dead things, but they were living through me. It was a curious and new understanding, that I was giving life to words. And through that insight I understood what was meant by Jesus being the Incarnate word; that he brought to life the words of God set forth in Holy Scripture, among them, of course, the two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, and our whole mind and our whole strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Since then, I see incarnations of words all the time, often mundane, sometimes holy, and sometimes tragic. Much of human life, as opposed to the lives of our dogs and cats, is giving life to words. Which presents us with a question: what words shall we give life to?
Turning to the Fruits of the Spirit, if your catechism lessons are a bit rusty, I’ll cite them for you. They are: love, joy; peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, kindness, and self-control. And as I have reflected on dad and his life I see that he was the incarnation of all of these. Even in those times when I as a child and teenager provoked him to quite justifiable anger, these qualities showed forth in his actions. All of you here now, and hundreds of others not here today, know of Howard’s extensive public service for which he has been often recognized and honored. But each of you also probably knows of instances, unknown to others, where Howard reached out in love and concern in varied and creative ways to help someone else, you perhaps, through the pitfalls of this earthly life. This was one of the hallmarks of his life all life long, the full range of it not known completely even to those closest to him. The individual lives changed by Howard’s phone calls, his letters, his encouragement and advice, his appearances to testify of behalf of this person or that, and his prayers are perhaps his more far-reaching legacy, even more significant than his public accomplishments.
Of course, he did not do this on his own; no one does – no one can. Howard was an incarnation of the fruits of the spirit because he was a devout and faithful follower of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and he lived out that life in faithfulness to his Church. He followed the admonition of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage and a blessed martyr of the Church, who taught that to have God as your Father, you must have the Church as your mother.
So as we go forth from here into our work and into our family lives and into our recreation, let us all be mindful of what words we incarnate, and let us all renew our commitment to strive to be incarnations of the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, kindness, and self-control – just like Howard.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 2-February-2016.