Wednesday, April 26, 2006

From Death, New Life

Philadelphia laid its great and beloved "Cat Eyes" to rest today, as scores of priests, a phalanx of the faithful, four bishops and a cardinal gathered at a suburban parish for a final farewell to Msgr. James McGrath, who died last week at 89.

Per McGrath's detailed instructions, the Mass of Christian Burial took place at Sacred Heart Church in Havertown, the one parish he pastored in his 63 years of priesthood.

Bishop Walter Sullivan, emeritus of Richmond and the late monsignor's "adopted brother," delivered a homily which reminded the gathered of the immense body of work and accomplishments, usually unsung, which the renowned canonist lavished upon his archdiocese and the wider church. Cardinal Justin Rigali, who celebrated the liturgy, spoke of the effectiveness of McGrath's priestly ministry as "an instrument of grace" for the many people he came into contact with over its course.

And, yes, I was there to pay a quiet homage -- despite having gotten lost on the way and circling through 15 minutes worth of inner-ring suburban developments.

There's something magic about the funeral liturgy, its words and symbols. Many of you know this and have experienced it time and again. But there's one part of the final commendation at the Mass' end which always gets me. It's simple, poetic, and it just resonates no matter how many times I hear it (the fewer, the better, for obvious reasons).....
Merciful Lord,
turn toward us and listen to our prayers:
open the gates of paradise to your servant
and help us who remain
to comfort one another with assurances of faith,
until we all meet in Christ
and are with you and our brother forever....
Note to ICEL: tinker with that graf at your peril.

Over the past week, I've heard from a good number of people scattered across the States and beyond who crossed paths with Jim McGrath in the journey, whether fleetingly or over decades: friends, colleagues, penitents -- admirers all, from near and far. In very moving ways, each told me how the example of his kindness, his loyalty, selflessness, brilliance, his great spirit of prayer and love for his ministry and his church changed their lives indelibly, and their gratitude continues.

He may now be enjoying his eternal reward, but McGrath's legacy, and the lessons and memories he left to those around him, will live forever among us who remain. As with everything in a communion of souls, it's an inheritance which belongs even to those he would never see nor know, and all of us are richly blessed by the gift of it.