Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a homily delivered by Father Russ Mower on Aug. 23 at the funeral Mass for Father Tim Church, pastor emeritus of St. Jude Catholic Church in Allen. Father Church, a former Episcopal priest, and his wife Linda were the subject of a Texas Catholic story and documentary in 2017 in which they discussed their faithful journey and how they wanted to call attention to the disease in an effort to help other families.
Last week, when Father Tim’s wife, Linda, asked if I would preach the homily today, I was very honored, but more than a little intimidated. You see, Father Tim was a wonderful homilist, and I knew that I would not measure up to his standard. When Linda gave me the readings that had been chosen by Father Tim, I realized that he had made this easier for me.
These are words which he had spoken to us on countless occasions: from Lamentations, “the mercies of the Lord are not exhausted, they are renewed every morning;” and from Paul to Timothy, “If we have died with Him we shall also live with him;” and even the Psalm, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom should I be afraid.” But it was when I came to the Gospel Father Tim had chosen, it was clear what he wanted to tell us. He chose a reading from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.
In this discourse, Jesus has just washed the feet of his disciples as Father Tim has washed the feet of so many of us here, on Holy Thursday and at other special moments. Jesus is eating His last meal with them. It is the last time he will see them before entering into His passion. Jesus’ final remarks may well have been what Father Tim had in mind as a message for us today.
This Farewell Discourse begins in John, Chapter 14, with these verses: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, I am going to prepare a place for you, where I am going, you know the way.”
Father Tim was a wonderful preacher. Whether you heard one of his homilies or a hundred, the long ones on Sunday or the short ones during the week, you eventually figured out that they all could be summed up in these seven words that Jesus gives us in chapter 15: “This is my commandment, love one another.”
But Father Tim was not just talking about God’s love. His true gift was in living God’s love and showing us how to live. Whether it was at a baptism, or a wedding, or a funeral, on a mission trip to Honduras, or on a canoe trip to the Minnesota boundary waters with the youth, he showed us how Jesus cared for His people.
At the beginning of the Rite of Ordination, when the soon-to-be priest’s name is called, his response is “present.” From that moment, and for the rest of his life, he was “present” for us.
When Father Tim heard of the sudden death of my wife, Vickie, he rushed to the hospital to be with my family. As he came through the door, there were tears coming down his cheeks and he threw his arms around me. I will never forget what he said…or didn’t say. He did not say a word. He stayed with us for some time and simply grieved with us. He was present.
When I was visiting with Father Tim’s daughter, Angela, last week, she commented that he was young, and there was so much more he could have done. Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and even greater ones than these.” When I look into this assembly, I see the priests and deacons that he raised up, the lay ministers, catechists, youth mentors, teachers and so many others who were inspired by him.
I remember when I was first feeling God’s call to the priesthood. I had a successful career, a nice house, a motorcycle, and all those good things. I stopped by Father Tim’s office and asked if he had a minute. I told him that I thought God was calling me to priesthood. He asked what I wanted him to do.
I said, “Tell me that’s a bad idea so I can go back to work with a clear conscience.”
He said, “Oh, I can’t do that.”
It was a beginning of a new stage in our friendship. On the day I left for seminary, I asked if he had one last bit of advice for me. He answered, “Don’t start any new heresies. There are plenty of old ones to go around.”
In Chapter 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me will bear much fruit.” This was the theme of Christ Renews His Parish retreat No. 1, some 15 years ago. That program which was started under Father Tim’s leadership has been attended by 2,000 parishioners and continues to grow.
Jesus says, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” A great prayer for so many of us that he touched.
During the last few years, as disease gradually affected his mind and his body, his call to priesthood never waned. Even though he couldn’t read, he would carry around his prayer book. Linda said he would walk around the house and all of a sudden a beautiful prayer would come out. He would ask her to take him to the church because someone might need him — for a baptism, or a wedding, or to celebrate Mass.
The love of Christ which Father Tim nurtured in the hearts of this community was evidenced in the way the staff here at St. Jude, especially Father Andrew, Deacon Robert, and Mary worked tirelessly with him to preserve the dignity of his priesthood. Father Tim’s family and this whole community will be eternally grateful for that, yet we know it was truly an act of repaying love with love.
The Father Tim most of us saw was the parish priest, but there was another side of him as a husband, father, brother and grandfather that we did not see as often. He was clearly devoted to his family.
They share incredible memories of fishing, camping, flying, and traveling the world together. He was there for them in good times and in bad and the love for one another in that family was and is inspiring. This was never more evident as in the last few years. They were determined to care for him at home and endured many trials in perseverance and love.
To Linda and all your family, I can only imagine the sacrifices you made over the years as you shared Tim, Dad, and Pop with all of us. On behalf of all the parishes where he served, there are no words to express our thanks to your family. I know that his prayer for you, his family, is included in Jesus’ Farewell Prayer: “When I was with them, I protected them…I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”
I have mentioned just a few of the verses in the Farewell Discourse of Jesus. I would encourage all of us to spend a little time pondering these on your own. The Gospel of John, Chapters 14 – 17. This brings us to the exact verse Father Tim chose for today. The conclusion of what is known simply as Jesus’ Farewell Prayer.
“Father, you loved me before the foundation of the world… The world does not know you, but I know you… I made your name known to them… I pray that the love with which you loved me may be in them.”
Father Russ Mower is the pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church in Oak Cliff.