Below is my homily from the Funeral Mass for Father George Rozycki at St. Joseph parish in Zephyrhills on Friday, July 1, 2011.
I wish to begin by saying up front that I am deeply honored to have been asked by Father George to both celebrate and preach his funeral Mass. I am also somewhat more intimidated than usual because if you just happened to be listening a few weeks ago to the discussion on the forthcoming document on preaching to be issued by our national conference of bishops at our recent Seattle meeting, the present bishop of Oakland took the floor to say that he had heard many funeral eulogies but no real funeral homilies. I hope this effort might please both the bishop and our dear Father George.
“Bishop, I have no fear of death but I so wish I could have some time to rest and enjoy my life after retirement.” Those words were Father Rozycki’s to me in the hospital barely three weeks ago. How he looked forward to his retirement in two years! “I wish I could have some time to rest. . .”
Father George’s prayer was answered though neither in the exact time nor manner in which he hoped. But he did indeed get his wish, deeper and richer than any of us can imagine. “Rest” is at the heart of life with God in eternity. George Rozycki as everyone in this Church knows was a just man, a kind man, and a gentle servant. He was exactly the person about whom the writer of the Book of Wisdom had in mind when it was written, “the just man, though he die early, shall be at rest.”[Wisdom 4:7-15]. How incredibly fitting and consoling are the additional words of Wisdom, “He who pleased God was loved; he who lived among sinners was transported. . . .he reached the fullness of a long career; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.” Wickedness can come in life from a variety of sources and living and dying with pancreatic cancer certainly qualifies as a form of that from which God in his goodness can spare us.
In a final gesture of love, the Father called his priest George to forego more suffering and come more quickly than he or we might have liked to rest, eternal rest. Since Monday afternoon, I understand more clearly Wisdom’s closing words: “But the people saw and did not understand, nor did they take this into account.” Left with simply the hollowness of human measurement, this death was untimely, unjust and unfair, and to some in their attempt to measure God’s love, even unkind to Father George. But to people of faith, Father was simply “snatched away” to receive his reward of rest.
How can we be sure that in this case death was a precious gift? We listened a few moments ago to Peter in the Acts of the Apostles remind us of the duty of the baptized in general and the ordained priest or deacon in particular. Peter says, The Lord “commissioned us to preach to the people and to testify that [Christ] is the one appointed by God as the judge of the living and the dead.” [Acts 10:34-36, 42-43]. For this reason alone I firmly believed that Father George was “dead-on” in professing to have no fear of death; he understood that God showed no partiality, even to Jesus His Son, in sparing the final moment of transition and our Father George knew that in his life as priest, he had always tried to act uprightly and therefore be found acceptable to Him. So Jesus came on Monday last and received George’s soul to present him to the Father Most High.
Biblically then the case can be made that in calling George Rozycki to Himself, the reason was that in his life Father preached Jesus Christ as the judge of the living and the dead and the manner was in harmony with how we all should wish a loving Lord to snatch us away when the time is right for Him, though not necessarily for us. But how about us? How do we deal with this sudden sense of loss?
Jesus wept at the news of the death of his friend Lazarus. It is one of only two times in the Gospels when Jesus shows the emotion that may have swelled in us with the news of Father’s death. Prior to that incident and early in his ministry he showed His remarkable compassion and understanding in confronting grief – the raising back to life of the son of the widow of Nain. In a foreshadowing of how countless centuries of his followers would react to death, he was first “moved with pity” and spoke with both compassion and empathy to the yound man’s mother “do not weep.” He raised the dead man back to life, foreshadowing that resurrection, which will follow all human death when we will be raised again to new life. When the Lord comes for the just man or woman, it can be said truly “God has visited his people.”[Luke 7:11-17].
Today Jesus is saying to you George and Wanda Rozycki, Father’s parents, do not weep. He has visited George and taken him to Himself. He affirms to you, his brothers, nieces and nephews, that after forty-one years of priestly service, the High Priest Himself has taken ownership of your brother and uncle and given to him the rest he sought. He has said to you the people of St. Joseph parish, your pastor’s body may have been full of cancer but there is no cancer to be found on this community of faith, this parish which he has sustained for the past twelve years. God has visited his people. On Monday in a manner we cannot fully comprehend, he said to your shepherd, “young man, I tell you arise.” Dear brother priests and deacons, we too know not the time or the place but with George’s faith in the Lord, we must echo his testimony, “I do not fear death.” His example of service, his sense of humor and emotional stability, his love and support for many priests who have passed through this parish give me both example and hope that whenever my moment comes, I too might be ready as I believe he was.
Thank you Fathers Theo and Matthew for lovingly guiding this parish while your pastor was away and unable, thank you Theresa for caring for him and St. Joseph’s so competently and lovingly and thank you Almighty God for sharing Father George with us and taking him when and how you did. In his death we proclaim with new meaning: thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
And as for you, dear George, REST, REST IN PEACE. AMEN.