The following reflection on Fr. Bill McGarry’s funeral was written by Patty Clemente, a longtime friend and counselee.
Some years back, Fr. Bill gave me a small book entitled “Hearts on Fire,” which contains prayers of Jesuits. In the introduction of this book, it is suggested that the prayers be used “when your own words fail you.” Since my own words fail me, I am borrowing the prayers of others to describe the highlights of yesterday’s journey with Fr. Bill.
We started the journey with the prayer found in the Spiritual Exercises #233: “In omnibus amare et servire Dominum” (“In all things, love and serve the Lord”). At the start of his homily, Fr. Thomas O’Gorman bared us his wounded heart by praying, “Bill, help me through this.” He then went on to console us by explaining the prayer that is also “goodbye.”
Saying goodbye to a friend is always something very difficult. But, to say goodbye to someone who is really a very special friend is extremely difficult. Because our hearts are filled with love, those hearts feel wounded, and wounded hearts flow with tears. Someone once said, real men don’t cry. That’s not true. Real men who are human beings–real men who love one another–shed tears because those tears are signs of love.
St. John Chrysostom has a wonderful saying. He says that, ‘Distance separates us’. The distance could be the distance of space, distance of time, and distance when one friend dies. So, distance separates us, but love unites us. And that love is so strong that not even death can destroy that love. All of us are here today because of love¼love that we experience, love that makes us sad, but love that also shows that we are still united with one another.
Today we say goodbye…I’d like to say something about goodbye… First of all, the words ‘good’ and ‘bye’–those two words that we use so casually and so often–are really the words of a prayer. They mean ‘God be with you.’ You linguists know that in the Old English the ‘God be with you’ has become simply ‘Goodbye.’ The ‘good’ of goodbye is ‘God,’ and ‘be with you’ was once ‘be with ye.’ So, ‘God be with you’ becomes ‘Goodbye’. You can check that with Dr. Google, if you don’t believe me. So, when we say goodbye, we are actually saying, ‘Bill, God be with you.’
Fr. Anthony de Mello once wrote: “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.” All throughout this journey, I heard the words “thank you” from many wounded hearts. In his homily, Fr. O’Gorman said “thank you” specially to the staff of the Wellness Center whom Fr. Bill cared for and to whom he was deeply grateful. Fr. Ken Hezel spoke on behalf of Jesuits of Micronesia to extend their gratitude to all who remember and pray for Fr. Bill as well as to the members of the Philippine Jesuit Province for caring for Fr Bill. These thank you’s were echoed by Fr. John Hagileiram, Fr. Ben Nebres and other wounded hearts. For each thank you, they have sanctified the people they are grateful for.
Later, we travelled from the Loyola House of Studies at Quezon City to Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches where Fr. Bill’s body was laid to rest. There, I overheard one of the elderly Jesuits tell his caregiver that Jesuits start and end their lives at the novitiate. As we laid Fr. Bill’s body to rest, we sang this prayer as a symbolic reminder that he is now home with God, his creator:
Morning comes, and I must go; day is breaking yonder.
After all the places I have been, now I’m going home.
I have been to see the sky and to travel on the highway.
And the time has come, I don’t know why, I am going home.
In the few days that have passed since Fr. Bill’s death, I have witnessed people weep with deep sorrow for the passing of our friend. Nothing, however, prepared me for the poignant and heart‑wrenching sight of Fr. Bill’s many elderly Jesuit friends who in their wheelchairs, walkers and canes, while silently weeping, embarking on this difficult journey with us. Through their silence and frailty, theirs were the loudest prayers of love and gratitude for Fr. Bill.
Reflecting on this journey, I am reminded that Fr. Bill had suggested that I reflect on Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s prayer found in “Hearts on Fire.” I would like to believe that on this journey Fr. Bill speaks to us now through this prayer:
More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now, there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.