Posted by: AgingChild | February 17, 2008

“Sounds Like a Game Plan” – A Giant Passes

Late yesterday morning, our priest and pastor and father passed away.

Dropping Mother off at the church this morning – so she could walk right in, and I could park the car down the block a bit – I noticed that the doorway was draped in black bunting. I hoped that this was just to mark Lent, the season wherein we focus on our own Lord’s terrible death, but I suspected worse, and could think of no one else’s passing – not even a pope’s – that might bring one of our many busy church committees to so decorate our great front door.

Father Wayne Funk had been diagnosed some years ago with terminal cancer, which had begun as prostate cancer and (I believe) since spread to his bones and vital organs. How did he respond to his prognosis? He simply went on with how he’d been living his life for decades, made no mention of it to the parish at large (only over a longer span of time did word reach us in our kneelers). He continued leading – pastoring/shepherding – the parish, preaching the Gospel and the teachings of our Lord and our Church, raving on about cruelty and bitterness and war and coldness of heart and the sufferings of women and minorities and the poor.

Like yours truly – but as a powerful role model, and activist, and not merely lip service, as in my case – Father Wayne was very far to the left politically, yet also anti-abortion… and (as I’ll show in another posting soon) that is in fact quite true to what the left is really about, if you truly think about it with your heart and soul. Father was also to the left of orthodox as well (certainly more than me), even while remaining true to the heart and history of Catholicism, and obedient to Rome. Yet at the same time he did favor the ordination of women (which I do not – on the surface, a seemingly hard thing to juggle when one is also feminist), and the option of priests to marry (which I do also favor).

As the years of his affliction drew on, and his strength began to wane, Father called in a friend of his of some decades, Father Dick Murphy, to add his hands to the helm and be co-Pastor – a title the Archdiocese did not recognize, but a position which nonetheless held in function. And in his couple years with us thus far – while tending personally to his old friend Father Wayne’s needs – Father Murphy has taken the reins entirely in his own hands… in a gentle and subtle transition that left no change in our church’s daily and weekly and seasonal routines.

(I’ve brought Father Wayne and his words and example into this blog more than once, and will be reflecting on him and his role in my life, over upcoming days and weeks.) 

Baltimore-bred and born, though a man of Rome and a quiet, mighty mover of little people’s souls within the worldwide church, Father could be counted on to be unrelenting not just against the injustices of the world (even within the church), but also in his unwavering devotion to Baltimore’s major-league teams, the Ravens (football) and the Orioles (baseball), regardless of how consistently poorly they did on the field.

It just now occurs to me that this parallels his ever-undeterred work on his parishioners’ (and their church’s) behalf: not on our own negligible merits, but knowing clearly what we were fully capable of doing, and indeed called on to do. He never turned away from his teams, and never turned away from his flock.

Even in his last few weeks, at a bit of an ebb in his stamina (he’d been regularly going through days and weeks, right after a chemo or radiation treatment, that his energy was completely sapped), he was still preaching firmly, his rich, firm voice still ringing clear and loud. (I kidded him more than once that he never needed a microphone; he laughed at this.)

At Mass this morning, Father Murphy – choking up once or twice, but blowing his nose several times and plowing on – told us how Father Wayne had come home from a radiation treatment this past Wednesday particularly exhausted, spending most of the evening and night in his La-Z-Boy. The next day, it became clear that this time Father Wayne was not regaining his energy, as he’d done before, but was in fact sinking. Father’s doctor was called, and he told the priests and staff that Father should immediately be brought to the emergency room.

Father was so weak that it was an ambulance that took him on his last living road trip, rather than a fellow priest or beloved staff member. There at the hospital, the specialists looked him over, and explained gently that nothing more could be done for him – the stints he’d received just last week (I’m not sure if these had been put in his heart, or some other veins or elsewhere – I know he’d had some kind of stomach problem then) were all blocked up again by the cancer; the best that could be done for him would be to just make him as comfortable as possible until the Lord took him back home.

In very typical manner, Father Wayne responded with a simple, accepting statement: “Sounds like a game plan.” (This brought smiles and chuckles to us hearing Father Murphy’s words now.) So he was put on a morphine drip, which eased his pain considerably. In the company of Father Murphy, our Father Raphael (who serves our Hispanic community), Father Kevin (former associate pastor, now pastoring his own church after some years serving in the Archdiocesan office of vocations – in which he’d counseled me), possibly our military-based Father Dan and I think also our semi-retired Father Leo (also of failing health), Father Wayne received the final sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and the prayers of his fellow priests.

And as Father Murphy spoke a particular prayer for this Christian soldier soon to come home, Father Wayne breathed his last.

At the pulpit – actually, striding back and forth before the altar, microphone (needlessly) at his collar – Father Wayne Funk stood a solid six-plus, face red at times with the intensity of his words, voice always strong, keen (though not extremely deep), even shouting a particularly stressed word or sentence. As I mentioned here over Christmas, he was nonetheless a first-rate, stunning role-model of the needful (and oft-neglected) virtue of simplicity, and humility. He pounded home not just the plight of the poor, but their very right to ownership of our own overabundances, and indeed their very ownership of Heaven itself.

We made him cry before the entire church, a few weeks ago, when we stood and applauded his long years of service to the church. And I got a private chuckle out of him the very next Sunday, when I spoke to him obliquely of his through-and-through humility, quoting Father Corapi’s line of how when you realize you’ve got humility, you’ve lost it.

Father was not conscious of his humility, or his living as an example for us, beyond his very-conscious service to his duties and responsibilities as priest and pastor, at whatever the cost. Other than the most extremes of discomfort and weariness brought on by his cancer, as well as by its aggressive treatments, he ignored his own slow, drawn-out death and continued living fully and firmly. Even while quick to bark out a frustrated word (once or twice even off-color in my hearing) at the plight of the needy, and at some of the stupider things that some men up and down in the church hierarchy have done, he was even quicker to laugh loud and long at things little and big, too. His own life he disregarded (other than fighting to keep it going – for the sake of his flock), and focused instead on how other lives so badly needed what he’d long since taken to heart and been living out.

Our hymn during Holy Eucharist today began with the line, “We remember how You loved us to Your death – and still we celebrate, for You are with us here…” Certainly those words are addressed to Jesus, and were written out of reflection and meditation on Christ’s suffering and death for us. But we are each and all also called to live like Jesus, emulate Him: He himself told us we had it in ourselves, in fact, to do greater things than even He had done. Father Wayne would have snorted at the idea of besting Jesus, of course. He never lived by that objective, but simply by doing as Jesus and His Church instructed him, guided by clear, gentle heart and loving, honest, humble soul… and an awesome capacity for righteous indignation.

Even lying now at rest, he remains standing tall as a loving, devoted giant, a beacon and guide to those of us in need of light and example and strength and big voice and loving heart.

Requiescat in pacem, Patre.

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Responses

  1. Father Wayne and I were on both ends of the political spectrum but on the importatnt issues such as abortion and respect for human life we agreed completely. In his homily during this past Christmas Season in the church hall, he spoke about societies focus on personal possessions. With fire in his voice dispite his failing health, he said”How dare we live in luxury when others don’t have enough to eat”. Father Wayne has softened my heart as a christian. Rest in Peace, Father


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