Here is the text of the reflection I shared with those who gathered to celebrate the life of one of our brothers in faith, and to commend his eternal soul into the loving arms of our God, who this day has granted him the reward of his labours.
Funeral homily for Fernand Degagne
Relatives and friends of our brother Fern have assembled in this place today to pray with him, to thank God for the gift that he has been to us and to celebrate his entry into our heavenly home.
Prayer is something that Fern and his siblings learned from their parents, so we begin our thanks today with a special prayer of gratitude for the example that was set by Olem and Marie. Because of their teaching, Fern learned to recite his prayers. With their guidance and example, he was first able to experience love and acceptance, and in time, he practiced these virtues himself. At the school of the family, we all encounter the first opportunities to learn such lessons, and in turn, it is up to us to pass on the wisdom we discover to others who come after us.
Examples of Fern’s willingness to lend a hand abound, and his generosity was not confined to the limits of family ties, although his children, grand-children and great grand-children were certainly the focus of his energy. Who else would travel for miles just so that he could be the object of his grandchild’s classroom show and tell exercise?
If we had to describe this man to a stranger, we probably could just call him the salt of the earth: the one who would be up first thing in the morning, enthusiastically attacking the snow that had fallen overnight; the one who was always able to find a solution to any problem; the one who was always attentive to the needs of others, whether that meant filling a wine glass or pulling a sliver with the edge of his pocket knife. He disinfected every wound with Polysporin and then closed it efficiently with crazy glue. The makers of adhesive bandages would have something to say about that, I’m sure. Before we knew it though, Fern was always able to cement a friendship because he was never afraid to open his heart, to welcome a stranger, to find a place welcome for anyone who needed it.
At the core of his being, Fern knew without a doubt that the voice of faith was constantly speaking. It’s not a voice that we often hear with human ears, but rather guidance that we receive deep within. The voice of faith speaks to us through the words Saint Paul wrote to the small Christian community at Corinth: We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus (2 Cor 4:14). When Fern received the news that cancer had invaded his body, he was at peace. He knew that the promise Jesus had made to him on the day of his baptism would still hold firm, so he didn’t doubt, not even for a moment, that the Lord Jesus would raise him to life.
It is never easy for us to let go of those we love. All of us can recall experiences that we have shared with Fern: times when we celebrated, times when we faced struggles and uncertainties, times when we worried about someone else, times when we sought wisdom and guidance, times when we came to understand that there are some times in life when silence is the best response. Indeed, as the wisdom of the scriptures tells us, there is a time and a season for every matter under heaven (Ecc 3:1).
We stand at a crossroad now. We are thankful for all that God as allowed us to learn from the life this great man, and yet we look forward and wonder how we will be able to share the wisdom we have discovered with others. It is possible, one step at a time, one moment, one encounter at a time. Just as we would look to Fern, and he would draw upon the well of his own experience to share wisdom with us, now we look to Jesus to help us draw upon the store of experiences we have amassed. Like Jesus, we too must begin by recognizing that it is God the Father who has given us the gift of life, and every other blessing that we have received. Like Jesus, we must now seek to welcome anyone who comes to us in search of guidance, never driving them away (cf Jn 6:37) because we are too tired to be present to them, but always willing to listen compassionately and to help if we are able.
Listening with compassion always opens the doors of our hearts, and when our hearts are open, we can learn to love. Love is the gift that Jesus came to share with us, the gift from God our Father, and because we have received it freely, we in turn must share it freely with others. Let us ask Jesus to fill our hearts with the Father’s love, and during this month of May which the Church dedicates to the memory of Mary our mother, let us ask her to pray for us, that we will learn to love as she also loves us. With Fern to watch over us and to guide us from heaven, we look forward to the day when the Lord’s promise will be fulfilled for us too: the day when we will have eternal life (cf Jn 6:40) with God in heaven.