Homily at the Funeral Mass of Fr. Hugh Wreisner, O. P.
Monday, September 10, 2001 by Fr. Benjamin Russell, O.P.Luke 23:44-52; 24:1-6a
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the land until three in the afternoon, because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father into your hands I commend my spirit." And when he had said this he breathed his last.
Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph, who, though he was a member of the Council, went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried. ...
But at daybreak, on the first day of the week, the women took the spices they had prepared, and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. But when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this behold two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. The men said to them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here. He has been raised."
The Gospel of the Lord.
If any of us were to write a story about a God, who came to earth in the person of a man, it would probably be a story of the happiest person who was ever on earth. A God, on earth, walking amongst us, and the God-man would probably go to many different places, and everybody would love him. And he would heal people and they would be so grateful. And he would teach them the truths they longed to understand. And they would praise him. And it would be a wonderful story. And he would stay amongst us as long as he wanted. And everybody would appreciate that he had come. And then, if he ever did leave, he would probably get on some magic carpet, and ride back up beyond the heavens to where he had come from.
But the real story that we believe in, which was written by God, is far different from any such story that we might write. In fact, that God-man was a puzzlement to his family, was deserted by followers, was under suspicion from the start by the very leaders of his own religion, and eventually he was denied by his friends and handed over by his own people to the Romans who put him to death in one of the most ignominious ways a person can be put to death.
But of course we know the story didn't end there, because God writes such a better story than any of us could ever write about God and us. No, he was raised from the dead, burst the bonds of death in glory, and eventually went back to where he came from.
Why did God write the story that way? So that we would not live merely in dreams and imagination, but that we would be able to live our faith realistically, and recognizing that suffering is part of being a human, and more importantly that God understands our suffering. And the real story didn't just end with the God-man going off on a magic carpet, it also ended with him promising his followers that he would prepare a place for them and come to take them to be with him. It is a story about the human condition. A story about suffering and redemption and salvation.
I knew Hugo very well as did many other people here. I could not ever enumerate the hours I spent alone with him, especially when he lived in Hyde Park in that wonderful apartment he had high up on the twenty-fourth floor from which you could see the whole Loop and Lake Michigan. And I learnt from him perhaps more than from anybody else I've ever known that we are players in the great drama of salvation. And that we're not in it by ourselves. But we are to use our talents and our abilities to welcome other people onto the stage. And to help them to play their parts well. And it used to sometimes pain him when he would be misunderstood and he would say,"They don't get it. They just don't get the point of the story."
When I would visit him in those years, when we were perhaps closest in our long friendship, I would find him reading books of theology and books in spirituality. It was in this period in his life that he discovered the Japanese. And all who know him know his love of things Japanese, but it was because he felt the Japanese got the point. They understood the true real story of life. And even though they saw it differently from us, without the story that we believe in, nonetheless they got the point.
I think the best way to illustrate this is to tell just one story, because if I just started telling stories about Hugo, it would become unbearably long.
As many of you know during those years when he lived down on the lakefront, Hugo every year had a Christmas Party. And his Christmas Party was rather celebrated amongst those people who knew him. And the Christmas Party which was always carried off just perfectly because it was planned and controlled carefully by Hugo, always involved an entertainment, but the entertainment, whether people who were there realized it or not, was a catechesis, every year.
And he would begin scripting his entertainment, in the winter months, and then begin preparing for it in the spring. And he would call upon actor friends of his to take roles. Sometimes he had live people involved, and other times, more often than not it involved a slide and sound show. And he would take all these pictures, and he would enlist my help from time to time. He would insist that I be the sound man, which made it impossible for me to enjoy the party, until the entertainment was over because I spent the whole evening in terror that I would push the wrong button at the wrong time and ruin Hugo's party.
Well he got this idea....that was going to be...he thought that the group was ready now for a little deeper catechesis. And so in the midst of this presentation was to be a picture of a chalice in mud. And so he said to me, "I want tomorrow -- I was visiting him -- and he said now tomorrow it's going to be a nice sunny day and I want for us to go over to the Japanese garden south of the Museum of Science and Industry. In the stream that runs along there I picked out the place that's perfect for this." So with great trepidation we went, and he had a gold chalice. And I said, "Hugo, you know we could get arrested for this." I said, "First of all what is this going to do to the people at the party. It's going to be a very shocking image." He said, "No, no, no, it will fit. You will see." And so we went, and we looked around and made sure nobody was coming. My job was to put the chalice in the end of the water and cover it just perfectly in mud according to his directions. And I said, "If somebody sees us they're going to think we're witches or something." And he said, "Well that's alright. Go ahead. We'll just do it." So, we did it. And I was very relieved when it was over. But it sort of worried me. What is going to happen when people see that we did this with a chalice?
However, when I finally saw the picture -- and you would have to see the picture because it was truly worth a thousand words -- it caught the whole point. The chalice, the cup of salvation, in the dirt from which we were created. And the people at the party got the point. And there was silence. It was his way of communicating the point that he could see. And I firmly believe that he lived all of his life totally convinced of the gospel story and its basic message which is a message of hope. And he longed for the day when he might finally, like Job, see the living God with his own eyes.
And I think that this is why his favorite song was, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It wasn't just because Judy sang it. I think it was because of what it meant to him. One time we had a conversation about it, and indeed, I was right. It wasn't because it was Judy's song that he cried when heard it, but what the song said to him. So, I'm not going to sing it to you. I'll spare you that. But I am going to read it to you. And I would ask you to download rainbow.mid, and play itSomewhere, over the rainbow, way up high,
There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me,
Away above the chimney tops
Where troubles melt like lemon drops.
That's where you'll find me.
Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly,
If birds fly over the rainbow,
Why then, oh why, can't I?
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow,
Why then, oh why, can't I?
Hugo was willing to live the story that God wrote for us, and he spent his life in hope, longing to be somewhere over the rainbow. Let us, when we think of him, be reminded of the truth of the story of Jesus Christ.
Hugo, you have flown over the rainbow. May you rest in peace and live in glory.