Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Sermon for the Requiem Mass of Fr. Kenneth Walker, F.S.S.P.

On June 20th, Fr. John Berg, the Superior General of the Fraternity of St. Peter, said the Funeral Mass for his confrere Fr. Kenneth Walker, who was killed during a robbery at the Mater Misericordiae Parish in Phoenix, Arizona on June 11. The Mass was said in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Paxico, Kansas, with Their Excellencies Thomas J. Olmstead, Bishop of Phoenix, and Fabian Bruskewitz, Bishop Emeritus of Lincoln Nebraska, attending in choir; Fr. Walker was ordained by Bishop Bruskewitz in 2012. The website of the F.S.S.P. has published the sermon which Fr. Berg delivered at the Mass, which contains some very beautiful reflections on the ceremonies of the traditional Requiem liturgy; the full text can be read by clicking here. (Our thanks to the Fraternity for permission to reproduce the text and pictures.)

O death where is thy victory? O death where is thy sting?

Just as a father is stunned by sorrow when he must mourn the death of a son who has gone before him, so too, as a superior of such a young community, one never expects to have to carry out such a terrible duty, and yet today we are gathered to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and carry out the absolution and burial of Fr. Kenneth John Walker, a young man of 28. Just two years ago he was ordained a priest at the hands of Bishop Bruskewitz. Two years ago I stood at his side as he joyfully offered his first Mass as a priest, but today we have the sad and untimely duty to commend his soul to God.

... the Requiem Mass for a priest contains the cry of St. Paul: “O death where is thy victory? O death where is Thy sting”, as if to stir us from our sorrow and remind us that death is but one half of the Christian paradox: for because of the victory of the cross, death has been transformed into the very gateway to life. This same cross is understood by so few that St. Paul says it is “unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Gentiles foolishness.” (1 Cor. 1:23) ...

The Church rightfully forbids eulogizing at a funeral as it would be an abuse to the liturgy which has the glorification of God as its end. And Fr. Walker himself never lived his life as such a man who would need to have his own chapter written about him in Church history or even that of the Fraternity of St. Peter. He was probably not infrequently the most knowledgable man in the room, but he would be the last one to put himself forward or into the spotlight.

And yet despite his quiet and unassuming nature, now his name, his life and his virtues have been published in a multitude of news outlets both nationally and internationally. A news media which in our day and age can’t seem to bring up the Catholic Church – and especially its priesthood – without trying to attach it somehow to scandal and abuse, has been resoundingly respectful in recognizing the life of a steadfast priest who served his flock. It is remarkable that this man, who did not call attention to himself or accomplish feats which would be considered as great by the world should by his example now goad so many to a greater awareness of God and perhaps even cause them to the return to the Church. There may be some here today who are among them.

If this is the case then, “O death, where is thy sting?” When Father Walker prostrated himself before the altar on the day of his priestly ordination, and there sounded over him the voice of the cantors invoking God, Our Lady, and the great saints of the Church (and many who are here today responded as with one voice "ora pro nobis") we hardly expected to need to reaffirm those words once again in such a context as that which calls us together today. On that day two years ago Father Walker offered himself wholly to God and therefore, as we know that death is not an end but a beginning, we beg God to accept his offering even as we grieve the necessity to do so.

... But the fact that death has lost its sting, and that we live not as those who have no hope, but as those who believe that when the soul departs from the body life has changed but not come to an end, it does not mean that there is no place for sorrow today. Our Lord showed us at the tomb of His dear friend that tears can be concomitant with great confidence in God and the resurrection. Today the liturgy has the church and its ministers draped in black to share in the mourning of one who has been lost to his family his friends and his community. The Church as a good mother is compassionate upon our sorrow. She acknowledges the wrenching truth about death but she does not fail to impart hope - even in the very context of that truth.

On behalf of all of my confreres I would express our deep sympathy to all the members of the Walker family. You gave your son to us years ago and entrusted him to our care. I pray to God that we cared for him well, as a family should, in every aspect, especially spiritually, since the day he entered the doors at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. Two years is such a short time as a priest, but knowing Fr. Walker, I believe he would not have traded in 50 more years in this valley of tears for even one as a priest, as another Christ. Every day of his priesthood he had the consolation of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To do so even once is a gift from God of incalculable grace and lies at the heart of the Fraternity’s vocation. If we need consolation it should come from recalling that Father had the gift of standing before the altar each day and renewing the sacrifice “ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam”. For Father Walker those words are literally true now and for all eternity.

Our primary purpose today, however, is not to seek our own consolation or commemorate the deceased, but to offer prayer and sacrifice for the repose of Fr. Walker that he may rest eternally in the Beatific Vision, one with the Divinity Whom on earth he was privileged to hold in his consecrated hands. This is our primary and solemn duty as those who knew him; those who loved him; those who were absolved by him; those who received Our Lord in Holy Communion from him; and those who were blessed by him.

The rite of this Requiem Mass expresses this urgency again and again in her prayers: Lux perpetua luceat ei: Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine. But this urgency is also seen in the very gestures of the priest. In this Mass there is no blessing of objects; the priest does not concede a blessing to the deacon and subdeacon at the Epistle and Gospel; not even the final blessing of the congregation is allowed. There is no exchange of peace between the ministers and the clergy. It is as if the Church reserves all for the deceased; as if every last grace of this Mass and absolution is jealously guarded for the repose of his soul.

This urgency was also beautifully seen on Monday when hundreds of priests offered Mass for the repose of Fr. Walker’s soul. The first of the day was offered by a confrere at 7 a.m. in Sydney, Australia; eight hours before the break of dawn in Europe, and the last was offered in California by another confrere as the next day was already breaking in Europe. We were mindful of the words of God through the Prophet Malachi: “For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered up to my name a clean oblation.” (Mal. 1:11) ...

In a few short moments Christ’s infinite sacrifice will be offered to the Father once again for the remission of sins and in particular for the soul of the faithfully departed. Then the absolution will be carried out with its blessings. Finally, as a last word, the liturgy of the Church will provide us with the hymn, In paradisum, as the coffin departs. This last liturgical text is also a very fitting bidding of goodbye, and again, on behalf of all priests of our Fraternity, I would like to make it our own and offer it directly to our confrere:

Dear Father, May the angels take you into paradise: may the martyrs come to welcome you on your way, and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels welcome you, and with Lazarus who once was poor may you have everlasting rest. Amen.

Fr. Berg delivering the sermon.
The Absolution over the Catafalque.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: