Chris's Funeral Reflection
by Louise Bitz, Nov 9, 2005 (Chaplain, Holy Cross High School)
First of all, my deepest condolences to Rob and Louise, Bob and Angela, Jen and Kelly, to Chris’s grandparents, to his many aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends. This has been a real tough haul.
But we come together tonight, as we have in the last few days since Chris’s death, and we find consolation and strength in our gathering. And God is with us. In fact, God has been very very close to us in the last few days, as we have cried and laughed and listened to one another’s stories about Chris. Rob and Louise have said that they have been amazed at the stories that are surfacing, and how far-reaching Chris’s love for others was and how many people of all ages and all walks of life have been blessed by him in their lives. Chris was a good man. He was, as the gospel said, “dressed for action with his lamp lit.”
Jesus speaks very candidly in this gospel. He says “See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks.” Okay, here is the background to the story. In those days, a wedding feast lasted a long time. ..a few days up to a few weeks. So, if you were the servant waiting at home, for the return of the master of the house, you might have to be on your toes for a long time….dressed for action with your lamps lit. You have to be vigilant - patient - watchful - prepared. You have to be ready to open that door as soon as the master arrives home. And what is the reward if you are ready? Listen carefully: “Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. I tell you solemnly, he will put on his apron, sit them down at table, and wait on them.” Holy! The reward is that the role gets reversed, and the master becomes the servant. In gratitude for your vigilance and attentiveness, he puts on the apron and serves you. And that is what we have witnessed in the last few days. Upon Chris’s death, Jesus became servant to the Roy family when he appeared in the guise of an airline steward, who wept with Rob and Louise, and shared consoling scripture with them on the flight home from Minneapolis. Then he came into the Roy home, in the guise of many friends and family members and embraced each one as He shared their grief. He put on his apron, and brought over food to the Roy home. He sat in a chair and listened to the stories. He wept and he laughed with all those who gathered. And he comforted us. He strengthened Rob and Louise so much, that they became the comforters. They have welcomed, received, and loved, just as Chris himself would have, and they have helped all of us cope with our grief. Yes the Master has become servant amongst us.
What did Jesus mean by being dressed for action with your lamps lit?
We have the answer in the 1st reading. It says “Love one another. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who does not love remains in death….This is his command: to believe in Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” Love is attentive. Whether it is in relationships with other people, paying attention to the Lord’s daily comings and goings in our lives, attentive to the world in which we live…love is attentive.
Chris loved. He loved well. And he loved a lot of people. He was always forging connections. His mom and dad tell of how he would work a full day’s work at Kinistino, and then drive the hour to St. Louis to help with the seeding or combining, and then head back home to Kinistino at night. So Rob or Louise, concerned for his safety, would phone him all along the way home, and so they would hear that he had stopped at a neighbor’s house, then a friend’s house, then an auntie’s house, then at someone who had just bought a combine so he would hop on for a round and shoot the breeze. Eventually he would get home, immediately call his mom and dad, and they would know he was safe. People were so important to Chris. The line in the obituary is just so very true: “Chris wasn’t one to travel the world, he just traveled the countryside to visit his family, grandparents, aunties and uncles, cousins, many other relatives as well as his many friends, neighbors and colleagues to let them know he was thinking of them, to cheer them up, make them smile and share his love for life.” Chris never felt he was intruding on anyone—his own belief in people and the modeling he had received from his very close and loving family—had convinced him that life was all about people. If you care, you look them up. You spend time with them. You do crazy things with them and have great fun together. You do thoughtful things for them. You make them priority. He did all that. Everyone here probably has a story of how Chris showed his love for them. Not that long ago, he checked in with his 12 year old cousin Michael, to see if Michael wanted to spend the day on the combine with him, because that is what Michael would want to do. A week ago, he picked up his cousins Jose and Sarah, and took them to a chic flic in P.A. , because that is what they would enjoy. A few days ago, he stopped at his aunt and uncle’s, and saw that his cousin Crystal was not feeling well. So he stayed on the couch with her all afternoon, then made a great supper for her family, then headed into Saskatoon to see his other cousin Angela, but at 11:30 at night, Angela did not answer the door, so he left her this note:
“Hey Bud, I came to check up on you to see how your diet is going. It must be going well seeing you’re out drinking beer!!! Take care, don’t forget to call me some time. P.S. nice shoes baby!!!” Love Chris. And when Angela got home, she had cause to grin, and she knew she was loved. Chris had been attentive.
If you knew Chris, you would be treated to laughter, and an invitation to adventure regularly. His life was about living fully alive, fully engaged, fully attentive, fully loving, and as close to the edge as possible. One time, when his friends wanted to go visit him on the farm, they asked him how to find the farm, so he gave them beginning directions, but left the last part out. He just told them they would figure it out once they got to St. Louis, And sure enough, just when they were scratching their heads, wondering which way to go, they saw the sign of Chris: a string of chocolate milk containers hanging from a fence post. He was attentive, and he invited them to be the same.
He priorized people. Brad Thiessen told of how Chris went way out of his way to come and see him in Moose Jaw, twice, once to take him out for supper and once to take him to a Rider’s game. Chris took 2 ½ weeks this summer to go see his good friend Johnny out in B.C. He stopped in at the school in the last few weeks and visited with a number of his teachers. He kept in touch by email, phone, and in person with all those in his very wide circle. In fact, his circle had no real boundaries. If you were human, and he met you, you were in.
The friends tell of many parties they had, where Chris would come to the party, and then end up upstairs talking to the parents all night. He was so genuinely interested in people. He became everyone’s brother, and everyone’s son. I know when he would come out to our house to see Byron, it wouldn’t really matter if Byron was there or not—he would just make himself comfortable and visit with Joe or Ben or Jelaina or Brendan or me or whoever was around. So there are a whole lot of us here today, who adopted Chris into our families…because he treated everyone like family. When Chris met you, you became special in his eyes. Everyone. He made no distinction with age, occupation, gender, or ability. If you knew Chris, you would be loved.
There is a beautiful story about how he made special efforts to care for the son and daughter of one of his coworkers. Holly and Jerry Warkentine’s son Jeff had been in a bad car accident and had become a quadrapalegic. So Jeff lived in a group home in Melfort during the week, and the parents brought him home for weekends. Chris went out of his way to spend time with that family, and brighten their day as only Chris can do. Jeff died 7 months ago, but Chris offered to be the brother and the son they lost. He became the big brother to Jennifer, now 17, and did what big brothers do…kid around, protect, and give hugs. The family is going to miss Chris terribly.
His mom tells of a conversation they had recently, where Chris said candidly…”I’m no angel Mom…I just give people halos.” What a beautiful thought. To give people halos. That is what he went about doing…making people feel like they were sacred, special, valued, worthy. ..making people feel good about themselves.
To be dressed for action and have your lamps lit. …”because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” We feel the weight of those words today. Those words could cause us to live in fear or they could invite us to live in hope. His unexpected death, like all deaths, makes us look at our own lives. Are we attentive to what matters? Are we fully engaged in each moment? Do we listen to the heartbeat of one another? Do we seek Jesus? Do we read and listen to His Word? Do we love as He commanded us? Do we have the heart of hospitality? Do we give people halos?
We know that God calls all those who have loved and served Him, into his heavenly Kingdom, and that we will know the great joy and peace of eternal life amongst all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We believe that this life is not it. We trust that Jesus is faithful to His word, when he tells his disciples “I am going to prepare a place for you…” And so, we entrust Chris to your care Lord Jesus. Thank you for the gift that he has been in our lives. And in the days ahead, when we will hear his laughter, expect to see him coming around the corner, see his empty place at the table, and feel the lingering warmth of his hug… may we be strengthened and consoled in the knowledge that he has begun another adventure in heaven, and will be making all kinds of connections there. And when our own time is up, and if we have been attentive to God, life, and love, we will enter the eternal kingdom ourselves…and just maybe… we will find a fence post with chocolate milk containers strung around it, and know exactly where to find our beloved Chris.
God bless you all.
With much love,
November 9, 2005