02 January 2020

Death has a job to do

Funeral: Fr. Dan Shanahan, OP
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

While we live, death has a job to do – an unpleasant but necessary task: to keep front and center in our minds the hard truth that the when and where of our living has a limit. We come into the world – body and soul – at a particular time and a particular place. We live for a number of years, moving toward our end: the natural limit of our time. At the appointed moment, the soul separates from the body and goes on to its judgment. For those of us left behind – the still living – death calls us together then to remember. And if those left behind are followers of Christ, death demands that we do more than merely remember the dead. We are to pray for them; more specifically, we are pray for them in the hope of the resurrection. Jesus answers his opponents, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.” On December 21, 2019, here at OLW, Fr. Dan Shanahan, 85yo, and 56yrs a Dominican friar, passed from life to death. We are here to pray that he will come to rest in the Lord. As followers of Christ, we pray in the hope of the resurrection that he will find his end: life eternal.

Well, death has done its job. Here we all are. Gathered together to remember a brother, to pray for him, and to set firmly in our hearts and minds the witness he bore to Christ's mercy while he lived. Dan has taken on a new ministry, the strange ministry of the dead to the living. Though he is absent from our daily lives, he is always present in our lives of prayer. We won't see Dan at table ever again. Nor hear him sing the Cream of Wheat commercial jingle. Nor listen to him recite one of his favorite soliloquies from Shakespeare. We will, however, know that he is with us when we pray. He heard the Word of God and he believed in the One who sent the Christ into the world. Knowing this, each time we pray, Dan bears witness, reminding us that there is a limit to the when and where of our living. Reminding us to look beyond the “witchery of paltry things that obscure what is right” and find our purpose, our telos, in the doing of God's will, in the doing of all that we vowed to do at baptism. 
Paul asks the Romans the question every Christian should be asked at every funeral: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” When we speak of the dead we often say, “He has passed” or “She passed peacefully.” We mean “passed from life to death.” But the Christian has already died in baptism. So, in one sense, a Christian cannot die. What is dead cannot die again. In another, a Christian cannot die b/c he has has been reborn to eternal life, rising from the waters of baptism a new creation, a creature who shares in the Divine Life of Christ. Just as we rose from baptism as new men and women, so we hope to rise again from our passing from this world, placing our faith and love in the hands of the Just Judge to see us brought to the wedding feast. We lift our brother Dan before the throne of God and pray that on the last day he comes fully into the light. And we earnestly pray that we will be standing next to him, looking into the face of the God he served, and say along with him, “Marvelous!”*

*This is the only word Fr. Dan would say in the last two years of his life. 

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