Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Homily for Requiem Mass of Michael Carson, 20 November 2021



OT: Wisdom 3:1-6, 9 [2, short form]
Ps: 25 [2]
NT: Romans 8:31b-35, 37-39 [6]

Alleluia verse: John 6:39 [4]
Gospel: John 11:17-27 [14]


Those of you who knew Michael know that he was larger than life in many ways. Nine pounds, eight and a half ounces at birth—the mothers here will know that that is one big baby! More recently he was six foot-four, 220 pounds, a loud, booming voice, wild and unpredictable gesticulations. So it will come as no surprise to you to learn that he was large to the end: I was told by the funeral home on Tuesday that the container we got for him—well, he didn’t fit into it. So we had to get the super-sized one for him that you see here today. But although all of his material remains are in there, he isn’t in there—he’s out here, with us in spirit, because wherever his friends were, that’s where he wanted to be.


Michael was a man of deep and abiding commitments—to his friends, to his principles, and most importantly, to life lived fully and well. But he was no angel, and sometimes his choices made in the heat of the moment worked against his deepest commitments, most tragically his commitment to life, but sometimes also his other commitments as well. But although I feel certain he sometimes hurt even his friends—and I can attest that he also sometimes hurt his family—I know from the past two weeks of testimony from witness after witness after witness, that what his friends remember about him is not the hurt but the love.


Michael loved his friends with intensity and passion, and his loyalty to them and his willingness to reach out to them and be there for them is the form that his love took. One of his childhood friends told me, through his tears, that Michael was the only one who seemed always to answer his phone if you called him in distress, regardless of the time of day or night. Other friends—we went to a remembrance of Michael’s life at The Skull—The Smiling Skull, Michael’s “home away from home” (or maybe it was his home, I don’t know)—but I talked to so many people there about Michael, and they all told me the same thing: Michael was our anchor; Michael was our center; Michael was the glue that held us all together; Michael was the guy who wanted to help you with your problems, but Michael was also some kind of wild and crazy guy who helped us to laugh at our problems and at each other.


Love, of course, is the principle Christian virtue. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Church at Corinth, writes movingly of the attributes of love: love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking that Michael could be plenty rude and arrogant, boastful and jealous. Well, nobody’s perfect. We all fall short of perfection, so how could we love perfectly? God literally is love, and it is the perfect form of love made manifest by God that St. Paul is talking about. As for those of us who fall short of that perfection, St. Paul consoles us in the reading we heard earlier from his letter to the Church at Rome. In spite of everything, regardless of who we are, where we are in life, what mistakes we have made, nothing—absolutely nothing at all—can separate us from the love of God. God loves each and every one of us with an intense, unlimited, unconditional, and personal love, a thirst for our good that nothing can quench. Even when we turn away from him, he reaches out to us in love, wanting nothing but our wellbeing and our happiness.


So even though Michael could indeed be rude and arrogant, he was still capable of turning towards God by loving his friends, even if imperfectly. And your willingness to forgive him when he failed you is also an act of love, because in forgiving him you were putting aside your own pride and hurt feelings in favor of your relationship with the one who hurt you. Whenever you reached out to Michael for help or consolation, that, too, was an act of love, because it was an act of trust and hope that invited an act of love in return.


Love as an invitation is very important in this context. God’s love is by its very nature selfless—what could God hope to gain from loving us? God loves us simply for our own sake. That sort of love will naturally evoke a loving response: how can we fail to be grateful and loving towards one who loves us in that way? But what should our own loving response be? Because we can do nothing to benefit God, his act of loving us is not a request for anything from us, it is, rather, an invitation—an invitation to us to share what we have experienced with others. So our own love is most perfect when it is most selfless. When you reached out to Michael for anything, you may indeed have been asking for something from him—something you needed, something he could give you. But even so you were still at the same time loving him in a selfless way—in God’s way—by inviting him to do good on your behalf. If he sometimes failed to respond in love himself, that does not diminish the grace and beauty of your love for him. But when he did respond in love, it was a movement towards the good, a movement towards God. Your need and your pain offered Michael the chances he so desperately needed to redeem himself, to respond to pain and suffering with help and comfort—with love. This is God’s providence: the ability to bring good out of evil through our free choice to act for the good of others. In this way, no suffering need be meaningless, every instance of pain is an opportunity for someone to manifest love to another. This is how we make God’s own love present to one another: by ministering to one another in a selfless way.


When Michael was eight years old we took a family trip to southern Florida. While swimming in the ocean one day I noticed that Michael had been caught in a rip tide about 15 meters offshore. He was struggling against the waves and I called out to him to swim out of it parallel to shore, but he couldn’t hear me and didn’t understand my wild gesticulations, so I dashed into the water to help him out. Michael was a pretty big guy even then, and it was very difficult to pull him in against the force of the water. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it, and that may have been the first time that I was seriously worried about his safety and my ability to protect it—and it would not be the last time.


In the last ten years the rip tide that was Michael’s life was more like a tsunami, and although he had many more lifeguards to watch out for him—some of whom are here today—we were not able to haul him out of the waters of destruction into which he had strayed. But whatever his flaws, whatever the rough edges he showed us on occasion, we have faith that, deep inside, Michael had a yearning for truth and beauty and goodness. We have this faith because we experienced truth and beauty and goodness in those acts of kindness and generosity that he was able, somehow, to summon up for others even in the midst of his own pain and suffering. And our faith gives us hope that his love will live on.


But you may ask: where is that love now? Where is God’s love in all this? Well, I know exactly where it is. I’m looking at it right now. The light of God’s love and mercy are made manifest today by your love for Michael. Your grief is no disproof of that, because you would not grieve if you did not love, and you would not love what is not good, and God is the source of all goodness, including whatever goodness was in Michael. And there was plenty of goodness in Michael for those who had the eyes to see it.


Many of you know that Michael had his name tattooed on his side—in Hebrew letters, because the name “Michael” is a Hebrew name. The name literally means “Who is like God”. The answer is: We all are, when we love one another as God always loves us and yearns for our good. So I urge you today to accept this invitation. The invitation that the loss of your friend, your brother—your son—offers to all of us. Let us preserve Michael and our love for him by ministering to one another in love, not just now, in this time of need, but always—Michael was always there for us. We should reach out to one another, consoling one another, being there for one another, redeeming and saving one another by acting as agents of God’s infinite mercy.

Homily for Requiem Mass of Michael Carson, 20 November 2021

  Readings OT: Wisdom 3:1-6, 9 [2, short form] Ps: 25 [2] NT: Romans 8:31b-35, 37-39 [6] Alleluia verse: John 6:39 [...