The following is the homily given on July 28, 2012, during the funeral of Brother Richard Jonathan
From the Gospel according to Saint John 1: “When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming towards him he said, ‘Here is a man in whom there is no guile.’”
That was the reading that came to my mind on June 22 in San Francisco when I received the message from Little Portion Friary that our beloved Brother Richard Jonathan had gone to glory. I was devastated. I went to the filing cabinet and pulled out Richard's file, a file we each have in Community that lists all of our personal information, family members, dates, requests for healthcare, and what is to happen following our death. Richard had carefully listed, in great detail, everything for his funeral: hymns, readings, black vestments, birettas, what he was to wear for his cremation, etc. I was surprised he didn't have us move the altar against the wall!
So. the past two Saturdays, in Connecticut and in San Francisco, there have been liturgical extravaganzas like you've never seen before but they were what Richard requested. Today we bring him home and will place his remains in the cemetery with those brothers who, for almost one hundred years, have served the Gospel in the way of Francis and, God willing, will do so for another hundred; with the Poor Clares who gave their enclosed life in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, and with Sister Elizabeth Anne of the Community of Saint Francis who, like Richard fought a brave battle against the dreaded cancer and all the many, many Third Order people who have sought in their everyday lives to live after the pattern of Francis. Yes, we shall bury him here, but we shall carry him in our hearts for the rest of our lives.
As I looked in his file, my great shock was to see he had put me down as the preacher. How could I stand up and preach about someone I had come to know and love deeply, and who I will miss immensely? What can I say about a life so packed with so much? Well, one thing Richard and I agreed on was that the homily at a funeral should be used to preach the Gospel, not talk about the person who has died (that can come later), so I intend to do that, but I'm sure you'll indulge me a little, Richard, if I do mention you, because how could I preach the gospel without speaking of one who sought to live that Gospel life after the pattern of Saint Francis of Assisi so closely?
I wonder why you have all come here today?
To mourn the death of a friend whose voice we will hear no more, whose smile will no longer grace our lives, whose laughter will no longer brighten our days? A church like this isn’t really a good place to do that, because it lacks intimacy and warmth. Better to mourn in our own living rooms, alone or with friends who knew Richard Jonathan. And mourn we all must, whatever our relationship with Richard Jonathan was, whether as brother, uncle, a nephew, a cousin, a brother in Community, a novice guardian or former novice guardian, a mentor in the faith, a spiritual director, a confessor, a companion in Dignity or Cursillo, a close friend, a priest and pastor, or just an acquaintance, but the reality is that for each of us, either as just a smiling face at coffee hour on Sunday or our confidant, he was a part of our lives to some depth or other. Mourn we must, tears must become our friends over the days ahead as we find ourselves confronted with those moments of reality.
All of us here will have our own memories, memories we will treasure and memories we will recall again and again as the years go by and I hope we will share some of those memories and stories over the reception today.
When I think of Richard Jonathan, Mary Oliver’s Poem goes through my mind:
Life is not meant to be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,
but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up,
totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming –
WOW -- What a Ride!
For Richard Jonathan, his life was a helter skelter of experience, and Richard Jonathan certainly lived it to the full!
Richard was one of those people who didn't become a Franciscan brother, he was born a Franciscan brother! It was something that was in his bones from the very moment of his birth, and without doubt that was what God had created him to do and to be. At the age of 25 he entered the Capuchin novitiate and sought to give his life completely in service to God after the pattern of Saint Francis of Assisi, his great inspiration and guide. Richard was truly a man born to wear brown! When brother Robert and I were talking about him last week we commented on the fact that he never passed up an opportunity to get someone into the Community! In the middle of a conversation with some man or other he would suddenly say: ”You know you'd look really good in brown!” They were often taken aback with his comment, but you know many of them took him seriously and over the past years have responded to that call. Brother Robert said he imagines him now going round heaven saying to the angels in white: ”It looks good on you, but you know, brown would suit you much better!”
And Richard never passed up a chance to preach the Gospel. He followed Saint Francis's dictum: ”Preach the Gospel at all times and only when necessary use words.“ Richard preached the Gospel with his life. He saw the injustice of the world and could not but speak out and stand out against it. He stood on endless picket lines, marched in endless processions and ,demonstrations and despite the threats of his then superiors, he refused to compromise the teachings of Jesus and the truth of the Gospel by which we live. He saw the leper of today's society, whether the person with AIDS, the mentally ill patient or homeless person, the gay person, the transgender person, the rejected or odd person, anyone ignored, and like his patron St Francis, he embraced them, much at times, to the horror of other people. He was not afraid to stand up there and be counted, to stand up and witness and hold to the truth of the Gospel, even when doing so cost him his priesthood and his vocation as a friar.
He continued to live out his Franciscan mission and vocation in the secular jobs he undertook, until in 2002 when he came home to The Society of Saint Francis. We saw what a true Franciscan Richard was and professed him. Soon after that, we worked so that the Church ratified his orders as a priest and he was able to function in a role that meant a great deal to him.
He soon became part of the leadership of the Community and our novice Guardian and Formation Director, and in this past seven years many men have passed through Richard's hands and all been influenced by his teaching and his Franciscan charisma. Even the many who didn't stay have written this past three weeks to say how much he had influenced them in the life they now lead.
His great teaching to the novices is one that he taught me, and I try my hardest to live by: Brother, is a verb. Brother, is a verb.
He taught us that the word is not a title, but a verb, a doing word. We are called to brother one another. I am called to be brother to each of my brothers and sisters in the Community, to love them and care for them. He drummed into each and every novice, and many of us who lived alongside him: I must brother my brother!
Richard chose the readings for his funeral, and those readings tells us that love is the foundation of it all, that love is the center of it all, that love is the core of it all, that love is the meaning of it all, love of God and love of one another, each person out there and each person in Community, that we share our lives and vocation with. There is nothing more than that. Love one another.
Each Saturday night at San Damiano Friary in San Francisco, we have an open house. Anyone can drop in for Mass and dinner. Sometimes there are 4 or 5, sometimes 25 people. We never know, and sometimes some of the most peculiar people drop in! The homeless, transvestites, drag queens, city officials, high-up church people, bishops, ordinary folk, undocumented workers, people who have just been released from padded cells, people who a week previous were in prison, .people with large genuine diamond rings to people with torn and ragged clothes on who have not washed for days, people who hold down well paying jobs, to people who have animated conversations with people we can't see or hear, but they surely can, and they all gather together and worship and pray together and eat together, and it's an incredible experience. Oftentimes, someone would say ”Where did that odd person come from?" and the response would normally be, ”A friend of Richard's!”. And that's just what they were: ”friends”.
Jesus said, “I call you friends.” Richard would say to people, “If you want to know what heaven is going to be like, then come along to our house on Saturday night. It's surely what the Kingdom of heaven is going to be like!'
Richard was known by the homeless, the drag queens, the rejected transgender community, the mentally unstable, the depressed, and the lost, and to each of them he was “my friend Richard”. This was witnessed to by the 200 plus people who attended his funeral in Connecticut, and the 100 plus in San Francisco, and you all here today.
“Preach the Gospel at all times and only when necessary use words.”. And that is what he did.
And in the midst of it all, underneath it all there was, as we all know, a vulnerable child of God who didn't feel he was worthy, and who struggled to believe that God and people loved him, and who often felt he had little to offer to the world. My prayer is that now he knows and experiences all of this, and doubts himself no longer.
“Here is a man in whom there is no guile.”
So what have we come here to do today?
We have come to do what the Church has always done: to gather together around the remains of one who has died, to make absolutely clear again the truth of the Gospel by which we live, the truth of everlasting life. The final victory of Christ over death. Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb, but Lazarus died a second time. For Richard Jonathan there is only life from this moment on. For God has made him well, and for him there is only whatever good God has in store for those who love him and whom he has healed through death. Richard Jonathan lives in joy and peace, and I suspect his laughter rings through heaven’s vault today, and his smile lightens up the faces of the Holy Angels as they try on their brown habits!
Finally, we have come here today to celebrate, to celebrate a life of love which has meant so much to so many people, many more people than we will ever know or realize. We will all miss his presence among us as a part of our family: as a member of our Community, at Dignity, at Cursillo, or welcoming guests at Little Portion Friary, or as he did for many years, at Family Link in San Francisco. We will miss his wise council and his support, his care. We will miss his laughter and his incredible sense of humor and fun, his horror movies and Dark Shadows references, all those things that go to make up a person. Yes, we have come to celebrate!
Mary Oliver again sums up Richard Jonathan’s life:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
The Wizard of Oz said to the tin woodman, “Hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable.” Our hearts are broken today, and thank God, otherwise our relationship with Richard Jonathan would have meant nothing at all.
Today Richard Jonathan knows our love and with that love we send him on his way.
Go Richard Jonathan to the Lord who awaits you, and who will say to you, “When I was hungry you fed me, when I was naked, you clothed me, when I was homeless you took me in, when I was lonely you spoke to me, and when I was rejected and dying of AIDS you accepted me and cared for me.” No doubt Richard will say, “But Lord, when did I do these things?,” and the Lord will say, “Whatever you did for the least of my brother and sisters you did for me.” .
Go Richard Jonathan to the Lord who loves you more than you can possibly know, Go, and may the angels lead you into paradise, and may you find there your true home with all those people you cared for, and looked after, with your mother Ginger, on whose birthday you died, and with all the saints in the presence of the God who created you and died for you. Go, and enjoy your reward and hear that voice say loud and clear to you today, ”Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Come enjoy the reward of your Master.”
Rest in peace my beloved brother.