St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
Readings: Isaiah 253: 6a, 7-9; Psalm 27; Phil. 3:20-21; Jn. 6: 37-40.
I. “Ad Maiorem dei Gloriam,”: “For the greater glory of God.”
This is the simple but profound phrase John Foley chose to serve as his episcopal motto when he was named a bishop. The phrase defined how he strove to live his life up until that moment, and would define how he strove to live his life until he went to the Lord last Sunday. A life lived “For the greater glory of God.”
As we gather in this Advent time preparing to celebrate anew the first coming of the Lord Jesus at Christmas, we gather for this solemn Mass for the Dead, reminded that each one of us prepares also for the coming of the Lord Jesus at the end of our lives, and for the coming of the Lord Jesus in glory. We celebrate these funeral rites for this Bishop and Cardinal of the Church, mindful that his motto is a call to each one of us: that ours might be lives lived “For the greater glory of God.”
Here in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary of which he was a proud alumnus, where he taught as a professor and served as spiritual director, which he called his home away from home until recently, in this Chapel where he prayed and celebrated Mass, we offer this Holy Eucharist now for the repose of his soul, that his sins might be forgiven, and that he might be welcomed into the true and everlasting home of heaven.
This evening, we offer our deep and prayerful condolences to his dear cousin Eileen, and her husband Charlie, indeed to all his family; to his closest friends Bob Sims, John Mullen and their families; to his faithful assistant Msgr. Hans Brouwers, and to countless seminarians and priests, beloved classmates, to so many consecrated religious, to members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, to lay men and women from around the world, indeed, to all who mourn his loss.
In a particular way, our prayers are with our Archbishop, Charles Chaput, who in his person represents all the members of the Church of Philadelphia who mourn the passing of Cardinal Foley, and with so many other Archbishops, Bishops and priests from near and far, who also honor us this evening by their presence.
In recent weeks, as throughout his life, Cardinal Foley was heard to say, in that unmistakable voice: “We were made for heaven.” His words are an echo of those we just heard from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). It is with that confidence that John Foley lived each day, and it is with that confidence that we bring his body to this chapel, offering him back to the Lord, who changes our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Phil. 3:21). This is what John believed. This is what we believe. This is what the Church believes.
As a young journalist, his first broadcasts were about the saints, whom he proposed as models to emulate. While exercising priestly ministry here at the seminary, Msgr. Foley would encourage students: “your goal is heaven and to be a saint.” But he also told them that the Christian life would not be easy, and that even though we should never stop striving for perfection in all things, we should be grateful for whatever the Lord accomplishes.
As a young philosophy professor and assistant at The Catholic Standard and Times, he was frustrated that he was pulled in many directions and could not accomplish anything well. Sound familiar? He went to his boss and mentor, Msgr. Keul, who counseled: “Mediocrity is detestable as an ideal, but commendable as an achievement.” Saints don’t strive for mediocrity!
II. “Ad Maiorem dei Gloriam,”: “For the greater glory of God.”
A life lived for the greater glory of God is first and foremost a life lived for, with and in Jesus. That life for John Foley and for every Catholic, is a life lived, first and foremost, by the power of the Holy Eucharist. In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah reveals an eschatalogical banquet to which we are all invited, the Messianic banquet. He speaks of a mountain where “the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples.” At this banquet, sadness and sorrow will be no more, death will be forever destroyed, and tears will be wiped away from every face. Isaiah is describing the new Jerusalem, the long hoped for banquet of salvation.
Here, in this Holy Mass, and tomorrow at the Funeral Mass, we celebrate the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision, and we gain once again a glimpse of that heavenly Jerusalem in the sacrifice which Christ offered on Mount Calvary, where he won the victory over sin and death. The chalice and paten I will raise at the altar belong to Cardinal Foley, who raised them for almost 50 years.
As for every priest, the Eucharist was at the center of his spiritual life. He rarely gave a retreat or day of recollection without reflecting on the words of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Hymn, “O Sacrum Convivium,” words which were such a part of his Eucharistic piety, words which inspire us even now: “O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is consumed, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given us.”
In and before the Eucharist, John Foley daily found strength and grace, even in the final throws of his struggle with leukemia. Isaiah’s words become Advent words for us: “Behold our God to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked, let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us” (Isaiah 25:9). It is in this Lord who comes to save us that we rejoice, the Lord who comes to us in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. As we reverently receive Him this evening, we do so rejoicing in the grace flowing from His Passion, Death and Resurrection, as He comes to renew us, strengthen us, comfort us and console us.
III. “Ad Maiorem dei Gloriam,”: “For the greater glory of God.”
While these words were Cardinal Foley’s episcopal motto, there was another phrase which was a regular source of inspiration for him: “In His Will is Our Peace.” “His Foleyness,” as he was affectionately known, was ever conscious that to live in Christ meant doing the Father’s Will. Accomplishing the Father’s will was the very purpose of the Son’s life, as St. John recounts in the Gospel chosen for this Mass: “I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day” (Jn. 6:38). Our salvation is won by the Son’s obedience to the Father’s will: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (Jn. 6:40).
The priest and bishop who strove to do the Lord’s will, is the priest and bishop who thus allowed others to see and believe Jesus. Cardinal Foley for years exercised what he called the “apostolate of letter writing.” While this might seem archaic in today’s world of texting and Twitter, I know of numerous people moved by recently received letters written just before his death.
In this Chapel and indeed around the globe there are countless persons who themselves, because John Foley strove to do the will of the Father, came to see and believe Jesus. We probably cannot count the confessions heard in a train station, the conversions which took place on airplanes, the condolences offered at the loss of a loved one, the visits made to the sick and dying, the counsel offered in difficult moments, the gladness shared at family meals, the prayerful witness offered in the celebration of the sacraments. Even when his appointment to Rome found him soon having to place his mother, Regina, in a nursing home, even when his commitment and conviction did not win him friends, he found peace in the Will of the Father. When we strive to do the Father’s Will, others see and believe in Jesus. And we find peace.
In Christ the priest, John Foley was always striving to do the Father’s Will. And doing the Father’s Will was the natural outgrowth of being a priest son in the Son, the High Priest. How many times must he have prayed in a silent chapel, or before the tomb of Peter, or in some faraway place to which his work took him: “Not my will, but yours be done”? The priest who did the Father’s Will with such childlike trust, is the priest who countless folks came to admire and love. Simply because he was a priest.
IV. “Ad Maiorem dei Gloriam,”: “For the greater glory of God.”
Christ the Priest did all for the greater glory of the Father. In John Foley, Priest and Bishop, we found a witness to what striving to do the Father’s will achieves: a life of sacrificial love, offered to the Father, in the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, out of love for the flock. Now, as any of his former students know, Cardinal Foley would be very disappointed if this homily did not include three points! And so, permit me to reflect on three virtues evident in the person of Christ the Priest, three virtues reflected in the priestly and episcopal ministry of Cardinal Foley, three virtues we are called to live as we daily strive to do the Father’s Will. Three virtues: humility, integrity and joy.
Humility. “Humilitas” was the motto of another Bishop and Cardinal, Saint Charles Borromeo. In the Incarnation which we await, Christ humbled himself to become one like us, yet without sin. In humility, we recognize that every good gift comes from God, and that every grace has its origin in Him. Humility expressed itself in the life of Cardinal Foley in various ways, often in self-deprecating humor, but more often in our begging him not to continue with his puns. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and told them: “What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do” (Jn. 13:15). In Jesus, who humbled himself, even unto death, death on a cross, we humble ourselves, to become more like Him.
Integrity. Jesus Christ is the exemplar of integrity. He lived what he proclaimed. He was truth personified. For those who knew him well, Cardinal Foley was voraciously devoted to the truth. His basic rule for all media work was simple: “Never tell a lie.” His unabashed truthfulness, sometimes presented without filter, may not have made him popular with some, but won him the respect of others. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples “Consecrate them by means of truth — your word is truth… I consecrate myself for their sakes now that they may be consecrated in truth” (Jn. 17:17-19). In Jesus, the truth, we renew this evening our pledge to live, act and speak the truth; to live what we profess, and thus proclaim the One who is Truth.
Joy. “Joy is the sure sign of the presence of God,” Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was fond of saying. Jesus, in his person, revealed the joy of the Father and the Holy Spirit. In his Last Supper Discourse, John recounts that Jesus encouraged his disciples to live in his love by keeping his commandments, “that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete” (Jn. 15:10-11). This is the joy we are anxious to share. This was the joy the Lord shared with John Foley, who readily shared it with others. On the day Cardinal Foley died, the Holy Father visited a parish in northern Rome and told the faithful: “This Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of joy. It tells us that, even amidst our doubts and difficulties, joy exists because God exists and He is with us.” This message of joy is one our archdiocese is in need of hearing and heeding in these daunting and challenging days.
V. “Ad Maiorem dei Gloriam,”: “For the greater glory of God.”
Every night before John Foley went to sleep, he had a devotional practice. After praying night prayer, as he closed his eyes to go to sleep, he would picture himself at the Last Supper as the Apostle John, resting his head on the chest of Jesus. Dear Cardinal Foley, this evening, as we celebrate the memorial of that Last Supper, we pray that, as you have fallen asleep in death, you may awaken to the heavenly banquet, where you find yourself resting your head on the chest of Jesus for eternity. As son, cousin, neighbor, priest, mentor, bishop, cardinal, and friend to so many, John Foley, by God’s grace, strove to live his life “For the Greater Glory of God.”
In this city which Cardinal Foley so loved, as in many cities, there are publications each year which seek to highlight the best cheese steak, the best soft pretzel or the best restaurants. One might say that John Patrick Foley was the best of Philadelphia, the best of the priesthood, and the best of the Catholic Church.
For the reflection of Christ’s humility, integrity and joy found in John Foley, priest and bishop, we offer thanks to the Lord this evening. For Cardinal Foley, we beg that, by the help of the Lord’s mercy, he may be “free from sin and safe from all distress,” “as (in this Advent Season) we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” And for ourselves, we beg the grace that, whether bishop, priest, deacon, seminarian, lay faithful, younger or older, we might live lives of humility, integrity and joy “For the Greater Glory of God!”
“Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.”