"He was a burning and shining light. And you were willing to rejoice in his light" (John 5:35).
Every Dominican in both Provinces to which Damian Fandal belonged would treasure the privilege of preaching the homily at his funeral mass. I am deeply honored, I am grateful, I am humbled.
The renowned English Dominican, Father Vincent McNabb preached over Bede Jarrett many years ago. It is amazing how much like Bede Jarrett, Damian Fandal was in character, personality, and Dominican accomplishment. In the English speaking Dominican world, it was said that Bede Jarrett was the best Dominican in this century. I think Damian Fandal could easily be a close second.
Vincent McNabb said of Bede and I quote it of Damian:
"Obedience has laid on me the task of honoring the dead by quelling my own grief to utter yours. Any words of mine suitable for what he was must be simple as he was simple. Yet any words suitable for what we thought he was must be superlative, since God gave him to us as a Cana-banquet of the best."
Damian Fandal eminently qualifies to be in this distinguished company.
There are funerals and there are funerals. What distinguishes Damian Fandal's funeral is the profound grief shared by everyone who knew him. More than a few in this congregation and countless others throughout the country, both Dominicans and lay people, have lost the dearest friend they ever had. I know of no priest who touched the lives of people more deeply and lovingly than Damian Fandal.
To his beloved sister, Elaine and his brother, Jim, and their families we express our deep sympathy. We share your loss.
I would be remiss this morning not to recall the tender, gentle, caring devotion Damian always showered upon his beautiful and gracious mother, Clara, and here in New Orleans, the special attention and affection he reserved for Uncle Arends to whom he was a son.
Family togetherness, family love, personal family devotion, and concern were always a first priority for Damian, and beyond any call of duty, no matter what obstacles prevailed, he always made every effort to be part of each family celebration. Nothing gave him greater joy than to be with his own. He was proud of his family and he relished family gatherings. He will be missed.
It was the same with his Dominican family. We share a loss that is devastating and a sorrow that is almost inconsolable. He was our brother, our friend, our leader, our light -- a shining exemplar of all that the Dominican calling means in our times. His presence among us for almost fifty years brightened our lives and gave a personal definition of our vocation that Saint Dominic himself fostered and insisted upon in those who would be his followers. Damian had the gift of humaneness.
I select this one quality, though he had many others just as impressive, I suppose because when I first became interested in the Dominicans, Father Walter Farrell, the great Dominican theologian, used this word "humaneness" in explaining to me what the Dominican Order was all about and what its spirit was. In my youthful ignorance, I thought it meant they were kind to animals.
In the years that followed, especially observing and experiencing Damian Fandal, I learned that it meant much more than that. It meant warmth, joy, laughter, fun, sensitivity, kindness, personal love for others, compassion, devoted friendship, loyalty, deep concern for peoples' lives and their problems, their successes, their uniqueness. Perhaps a better word would be "magnanimity" -- greatness of soul. Damian had this wonderful gift, and the lifelong, avid card player that he was, he had it in spades. People loved Damian because they knew he genuinely loved them. He was never after anything for himself, never a user, never selfish. His God given talents were awesome. His personal potential unlimited. He could have been successful in anything. He had more brains than most people, and definitely more charm. He was a gifted preacher, a fine theologian, faithful to the Magisterium and loyal to the Holy Father, a marvelous teacher who could have been a major influence in the academic community which he loved and where he was recognized and so successful for so many years. I don't think we realized and appreciated, at least I didn't, how time and again, he sacrificed and offered his special gifts and talents, his personal preferences, to serve the needs of his brethren.
All his life, from his earliest days, he had only one ambition -- to be a Dominican Priest. That was it -- and he achieved it with far greater distinction than he ever realized. He was always happy, always reflected joy. I know he wouldn't have changed places with anyone in the world. He was where he belonged and where God wanted him.
Damian accepted responsibility cheerfully and without fuss or murmuring. This is what his vow of obedience meant.
In the hectic Sixties, as Provincial, I went to Dallas and told him I needed him to come to Chicago to be my Vicar. I know he didn't want to come. He was heart and soul in his work! He was very happy where he was. He was Assistant to the President of the University of Dallas. He loved his job and they loved him and depended on him. The President of the University was devastated to lose him. But he came and served nobly, and never made me feel that I owed him anything nor that I had deprived him, nor that he had made any personal sacrifice, though I know it was a big sacrifice for him.
After it was over, he returned to the University, which was his baby. He became Acting President and it was obvious to the University community and its trustees that he was the right choice to be named President. He was ready, willing and able for the challenge. Once again, it was not to be his preference. This time he was called by his brethren to be Provincial in difficult and uncertain times. He served for eight years, magnificently, until he suffered a severe brain illness that meant frightening, serious surgery which threatened his life.
I spoke with him on the phone the night before. His mother was with him. I never heard him speak so calmly and so confidently -- because he was completely in God's loving care and, either way, he knew he couldn't lose. God's will was all he wanted. He had no fear of death.
During his last illness, I spoke with him many times almost to the end. I am sure he knew that God was going to call him home -- and I knew he was well-prepared for that journey. And, again, he was completely in God's loving care.
Brother Joachim Schiphorst, a Dutch Dominican who served in Rome for more than forty years, knew Damian as a young student, as a priest in charge of the University of Dallas Rome Campus, as Provincial and as a longtime friend and brother. Joachim's English was flawless but he had difficulty with the idiom. He described Damian perfectly in three words: "First Communion Boy".
And he was, always. Beyond his intellectual and academic achievements, beyond his urbanity and worldly sophistication, beyond years of high powered administration and serious ministry, he retained that unique quality that attracted people to him. He had an innocence and a goodness you couldn't miss. It stood out. That is why people loved and reverenced him and wanted to be his friend. He had cleanness of mind and heart. A Beatitude -- Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God. And they do. Not only in Heaven, but right here on earth. And Damian did. And he saw God in each one of us. And shared this vision with so many in life.
Damian would be embarrassed to hear me say these things -- but they are true. And they should be said.
And we Dominicans and the Church and the world are much poorer today because Damian is not with us, but can be much richer if we follow his example.