May 8, 2013
To John and Mary Jo, Sister Jane, Ellen and Pat and Bishop McFadden’s large and loving extended family, to the Cardinals, to the Archbishops, to his brother bishops, to the priests, deacons, religious and the people of God of the Diocese of Harrisburg and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, we offer you our prayers and sympathy as we celebrate this Solemn Funeral Mass for the soul of Bishop McFadden and for the people he has served.
The Gospel of John brings to us this morning the story of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus tells Martha:
“Your brother will rise…I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
The objective truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and of eternal life in Jesus is what we celebrate in this Funeral Mass and it is what animated and guided the life and ministry of Bishop Joseph McFadden.
Family, Catholic Education and Bishop McFadden’s early life
So much of Bishop McFadden’s legacy of evangelization was grounded in the love and Irish Catholic faith and spirit of his parents Tom and Ellen McFadden, his brother and sisters and his Archdiocese of Philadelphia parish and Catholic school experience.
So much of Bishop McFadden’s magnanimity, prayerful work ethic and non-stop generosity and thoughtfulness came from the spirit of sacrifice of his parents and their love and devotion for Daily Mass. What a joy it was to sit down with the family at Ellen and Pat’s house in West Chester on Friday night and to hear story after story about the faith of this beautiful family.
Sr. Jane mentioned that when their mother Ellen died when Joe was 18, it had a profound effect on him. His love for Mary as his mother expanded and developed. His understanding of the communion of saints and the power of the Mass deepened. He had a gift for really praying the Mass at a deep level.
The young Joseph McFadden was an excellent student and the valedictorian of his St. Thomas More High School Class.
He also experienced early on what many metro Philadelphia boys have experienced through the generations – a love for Big Five basketball, triple-headers at the Palestra, and the Philadelphia Catholic League.
I can remember one of my own mentors, legendary Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril, saying that he liked to recruit Catholic High School players because “they play to win.”
Make no mistake about it. Joseph McFadden may have been a kind and gentle priest and Bishop but he always played to win – whether it was a West Catholic game or whether it was the New Evangelization!
And his way to win as a priest and Bishop with a rich interior life and a vibrant missionary spirit was a non-stop full court press for the Glory of God and the salvation of souls.
So many of his basketball experiences first as a point guard and then as a Coach at West Catholic, forged his style of priestly and episcopal leadership.
As a point guard initiating the offense and creating team chemistry, he would survey the floor, see a lane and then go very hard to the basket.
It was the same dynamic for him as a Bishop of the New Evangelization. He would survey the challenges of spreading the Gospel in the 21st Century Age of social networking, moral relativism, hedonism and radical atheism.
Then he would find that lane of opportunity and he would go to the basket hard with a constructive strategy, plan of action and a spirit of winning and contagious enthusiasm. He was relentless in the best sense.
At the same time, he had this calm, listening and engaging pastoral spirit that focused prayerfully on the person God put in front of him at a particular moment.
Blessed John Paul II captures Bishop McFadden’s spirit in a passage from his book on his life as a Bishop entitled Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way. He writes: “Interest in others begins with the bishop’s prayer life: his conversations with Christ, who entrusts ‘His own’ to him. Prayer prepares him for encounter with others…I simply pray for everyone every day. As soon as I meet people, I pray for them, and this helps me in all my relationships…I always follow this principle: I welcome everyone as a person sent to me and entrusted to me by Christ.”
Bishop McFadden lived this spirit daily. In the wide range of people he touched and influenced, he welcomed everyone as a person sent and entrusted to him by Christ Himself.
New Evangelization Priest and Bishop
In his Chrism Mass Homily of March 28, 2013, Pope Francis used Sacred Chrism imagery to describe the identity of the Catholic priest and Bishop. He wrote: “The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe…The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person: it overflows down to ‘the edges’. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone.”
What a beautiful image for the priestly and episcopal charity of Bishop Joseph McFadden. Each of us can imagine so many snapshots of how this image of flowing chrism overflowing to the edges affected the people Bishop McFadden served.
How many poor families did he sit down with and encourage and with how many of these families did he find a path for their sons and daughters to have a Catholic education? How many families of police officers killed in the line of duty did he sit down with and follow up with for years? How many victims of all types of trauma did he help discern a path of healing and forgiveness?
How many brother priests and bishops did he console, encourage and inspire? (We remember in a special way his loyalty, kindness, care and affection for Cardinal Krol.) How many vocations to the priesthood and religious life did he nurture through conversation that was both reassuring and challenging?
How many legislators, so many of whom are present here today, from both Philadelphia and Harrisburg did he form sincere and lasting friendships with? How many bridges of understanding and charity did he create ecumenically, inter-religiously and in the larger communities he served? How many young people did he set in the right direction? How many people in crisis and grief did he console? How many moving and heartfelt confessions did he hear?
In these days since his death last Thursday morning, all sorts of small but vibrant personal stories and anecdotes are emerging about how in an unseen way he went the extra mile in priestly charity and how he followed up and stayed in touch with people.
Bishop McFadden knew with Pope Francis “the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it.” He was a Shepherd who lived with, knew and loved “the odour of his sheep.”
Bishop McFadden would have celebrated his Third Anniversary as your Bishop on June 22, 2013 very fittingly on the Memorials of the great martyrs St. Thomas More, the patron of Statesmen, Politicians and Lawyers and Bishop John Fisher.
Bishop McFadden admired the bold courage of these 16th century martyrs. Their holiness and their love for the Truth – one as a Catholic statesman and one as a Catholic Bishop – inspired Bishop McFadden in his defense and promotion of religious liberty, the Gospel of Life and the institution of marriage.
To the priests, deacons and people of God of the Diocese of Harrisburg, though he was your Bishop for less than three years, I know that you came to understand and love this non-stop evangelizing Bishop, this loving and down to earth and salt of the earth meteor of the New Evangelization.
Champion of Catholic Education and the New Evangelization
Bishop McFadden was also passionate and forward looking about Catholic education. He always had a clear-sighted and realistic view of the financial, marketing, demographic and enrollment challenges of 21st Century Catholic education but he had, at the same time, a Churchillian courage and winning spirit in addressing those challenges.
He inspired so many of us around the country to believe in the future of Catholic education as one of the most important pillars of the New Evangelization.
As the Chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Catholic Education, he emerged as a national figure and advocate of Catholic Education. In a Keynote address that he delivered to pastors with schools from all over the country at Notre Dame University, Bishop McFadden said: “We must see (Catholic) schools within the context of the mission of the Church in fulfilling the mandate of the Lord to ‘Go, therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ (Matthew 28:19) It is this divine mandate that is the motivating and sustaining principle that must be at the heart of every Catholic school. It should be understood clearly that the reason we establish, support and maintain Catholic schools is because we believe the truth about life, the truth about the origin, identity and destiny of every human person is rooted in our understanding of the person of Jesus Christ.”
Thomas Edison once said that “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Bishop McFadden had both the vision and the execution.
From “laptops for learning” at Cardinal O’Hara to his efforts to expand the Education Improvement Tax Credit program and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to his catechetical engagement with the young people of the Diocese of Harrisburg through simultaneous video conferencing, to his recent efforts to frame the Catholic school legislative discussion around the concept of “parental choice,” he always pushed new opportunities, new and creative ways of advancing Catholic education in the 21st Century.
Bishop Joseph McFadden had a calm and contemplative urgency about the New Evangelization. Luke 12:49 captured his spirit well: “I have come to cast fire on the earth and would that it were already enkindled.”
As we remember his Catholic faith and missionary spirit in this Year of Faith, we remember the phrase from Paul’s Letter to the Romans which Bishop McFadden often preached at his Confirmations: “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Bishop Joseph McFadden had an enormous effect on more people than we can ever really know. He was profound, wise, completely devoted to his loving, extended family, realistic, caring, funny, engaged, determined, energetic, zealous and intelligent.
But most of all, in all of his endeavors, he was a completely devoted follower of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the Way, the Truth and the Life, the Resurrection and the Life.
Although we are filled with grief at Bishop McFadden’s passing from this life because we will no longer have him among us, we know and trust that great promise given to us: even though he has died, Bishop McFadden still lives, and every one of us who lives and believes in Jesus Christ will, like Bishop McFadden, never die.
Our destiny lies in joining with Bishop McFadden after we help further the work of his life: bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ and the splendor of Catholic Truth to the ends of the earth in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
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