READINGS AND HOMILY FOR FR. AMBROSE WINDBACHER O.P.
A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah
7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tiding, Announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, "Your God is King!"
8 Hark! Your watchmen raise a cry, together they shout for joy, For they see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion.
9 Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the Lord comforts his people, he redeems Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.
11 Depart, depart, come forth from there, touch nothing unclean! Out from there! Purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of the Lord.
12 Yet not in fearful haste will you come out, nor leave in headlong flight, For the Lord comes before you, and your rear guard is the God of Israel.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke
57 As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, "I will follow you where ever you go." 58 Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest head." 59 And to another he said, "Follow me." But he replied, "[Lord,] let me go first and bury my father." 60 But he answered him, "Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God." 61 And another said, "I will follow you, Lord but first let me say farewell to my family at home." 62 [To him] Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God."
Homily by Fr. Matt Walsh, O.P.
Fifty four years ago, Peter John Windbacher knelt in this very chapel to begin his Dominican life as Brother Ambrose. This was the house of his first assignment. From here he went to St. Rose in Dubuque. His third and final assignment was to St. Dominic's Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria.
Actually during his forty six years at St. Dominic's, the house changed three times -- from the old mission house dating to the time before our first Province members went there -- to the house built in the 60's -- to the present priory. The house changed three times -- Ambrose remained always the same.
Ambrose remained always the same. The first time I met him, we were both students at summer camp. He was quiet and gentle then -- he was quiet and gentle the last time I talked with him when I came here for Hugo's funeral. I suspect he came that way to us because it is the same gentle spirit we know in Sister Cephas and Margaret.
The readings for this funeral Mass describe his years at Yaba. In the first reading, Isaiah writes "how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news". Ambrose was a missionary who brought good news. And we would know how effective he was in bringing the good news to others if we could be in Nigeria for his burial.
I can see the scene now -- people from all walks of life -- from housewives to chiefs, from bank clerks to bishops, all wanting to meet the plane as his body is returned to the land he came to love so deeply. I would not be surprised if everyone will be wearing a cloth made especially for the occasion -- a cloth with his picture on it and the dates 1955 to 2001. If it were easier to obtain visas, I am sure that many of them would be here this evening to stand with our Nigerian brothers and sisters who are here.
I can see St. Dominic's church. It can hold 5000 people -- but the church will not be large enough for all who will attend his funeral Mass. I can hear the Yoruba choir -- the Ibo choir -- the Idoma choir the Tiv choir -- each ethnic group paying honor to him. I suspect Archbishop Okoji will preach and preside at the funeral of his friend and counselor. Ambrose was a missionary who touched the lives of everyone in that vast parish. He learned early on that what people were looking for was someone who cared enough to listen. Listening was not second nature to him -- it was at the very heart of who he was. Mother Teresa used often to say that she found her vocation within her vocation. She went to India as a missionary -- but while there found her vocation to serve the poorest of the poor.
Father Windbacher had a similar experience. Within his vocation as a missionary, he found his vocation as Vocation Director. He was doing that when I arrived in Nigeria, he was doing that when I left Nigeria, he was doing that when he left Nigeria earlier this year to be with Sister Cephas. He would ask each Provincial Chapter to appoint someone else -- and they would -- but within a few months, he would be asked to work in that office again.
The gospel chosen for his funeral Mass spoke to him in his vocation within a vocation. So many young men were attracted to join the Order -- often because of his example -- but like Jesus he would challenge each one -- do you understand how demanding it is to be a Dominican? -- are you willing to day after day make sacrifices to follow our way of life? -- is this something you think you can do for the rest of your life?
Ambrose would challenge those who came asking to be a Dominican -- but as often as not he would give the person the benefit of the doubt -- and more often than not he would be right in his judgment.
To see how right he was in his judgment, we need only think of the more than 100 members of the Nigerian Province of St. Joseph the Worker. Almost everyone of them came into the Order while Ambrose was Vocation Director -- everyone of them will miss their senior brother.
They will miss him perhaps most of all at recreation. He never made fun of anyone -he found humor in the most mundane and the most frustrating of the day's events.
I remember one time I was visiting Yaba -- the telephone system was down and he had spent hours trying to call across town. Finally he called his sister Margaret, gave her the message he needed to deliver and asked her to call him back when she had done this. He was delighted that he had found a way to get a message across town via Chicago!
Fifty four years ago, Peter John Windbacher began his Dominican life here in this chapel. We gather here this evening to remember this good man who put his hand to the plow and never looked back. May he rest in peace.