On Thursday I had the opportunity (thanks to my Spiritual Director who was concelebrating and was more than willing to give me a lift) to attend the Funeral Mass for Father Jay Flaherty, a priest of the Diocese of Knoxville who was known as a very powerful preacher indeed. When Nicole and I were married, Father Flaherty celebrated our Nuptial Mass and witnessed our marriage. Nicole had been a member at Holy Cross prior to the two of us being married. Through the course of the years I have been witness to many of Father’s more-than-electrifying homilies, and he had a gift for preaching that few of us will ever attain.
We know, of course, that we go to Mass ultimately not for the homily, but to receive Our Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. The preaching is not the main event at any Mass, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important, of course. For some people, a good homily is all of the catechesis they are going to get this week. That isn’t because no one is interested in the faith, but in our increasingly time-crunched and often over-worked culture and society, it can speak volumes about a person’s faith in God that they take that hour (or so) each week to go to Mass on Sunday. Father Flaherty seemed to understand that. He also preached the Truth of the Faith with very little reserve. I often thought that one of his homilies would get national attention, and sure enough it finally happened (at least in the Catholic blogosphere), thanks in part to a Letter to the Editor in the East Tennessee Catholic that soon, as they say, “went viral.”
You might remember the incident in Pigeon Forge in 2010 when a young parishioner at Holy Cross was given an anti-Catholic tract, The Death Cookie, that vile screed of the dispensationalist anti-Catholic comic book writer Jack T. Chick, a man so reclusive that the only proof that we have that he exists is a pencil drawing by Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin designed to give us some idea of what Chick looks like (there is apparently also, Jimmy has said, one possible photo of Chick). Both Father Flaherty, and even more publicly, Bishop Stika, spoke out publicly against the bigotry espoused in the tract. Father Flaherty could have made a much bigger deal out of that entire affair, but he did not. He seemed to let the utter ridiculousness of what happened speak for itself.
At the funeral yesterday, Father Dan Whitman’s homily recalled the Father Jay-“Cousin Jay” he called his seminary buddy, even though the two are not actually related-that he knew, a man who took his responsibility to be a priest and a preacher of the Word of God very seriously. I couldn’t help but notice that my brother Aspirant Steve May was among the readers yesterday. Our own Associate Director of the Diaconate Joe Stackhouse was among the visiting deacons, as was Deacon Bob Smearing, who I was able to speak briefly with before and after Mass. Many of our priests were there, including Monsignor Pat Garrity and Father Joseph Hammond, both former pastors of mine, along with my current Associate Pastor Father Alex Waraksa, Father Michael Woods from All Saints, and Father John O’Neill, the former associate at Holy Ghost in Knoxville who, even though he is now the chaplain for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cicilia in Nashville still, Father Alex tells me, will drive all the way over here for a priest’s funeral. There were many other clergy there as well, please forgive me as it isn’t my intention to leave out anyone.
When a priest of God enters Eternal Life, there is a mourning and a grief, certainly. Surely, Father Jay’s family are grieving his loss to them, and I know that his parish family at Holy Cross, a parish he is largely responsible for building, are grieving too. More than the human grief, however, there is a genuine giving of thanks that this Servant of God not only gave of himself to be the hands that bring us Jesus, but gave up the comforts of secular earthly life for a Kingdom that is not of this world, for the Glory of God and the good of souls. Between his homilies and his radio program, there is little doubt that Father Jay Flaherty spent a great deal of his time being concerned with the good of souls. We would do well to mimic that concern, and pray for more men who live their life for the Glory of God and the good of souls.