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Homily for Fr. John Geitner, 1927-2018 2018-03-14


Fr. John Geitner, MM, by M Sloboda, March 13 and 14, 2018
Rom. 8: 31-35, 37-39; Ps. 122; Jn. 11:17-27 Lazarus


Supervisor, principal, teachers and students, I usually begin a funeral homily by offering condolences to the family of the deceased, to the surviving spouse, the brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces. One nephew of Fr. John Geitner flew from the USA to HK 2 weeks ago. He attended Mass for his uncle on March 3. Many of us were in St. Francis of Assisi Church that Saturday morning. Then we went to the cemetery and later to the restaurant. That nephew went to the airport a week ago. Nobody in this hall is biologically related to Fr. Geitner. Yet he was like an uncle, or a grand-uncle, or even a great-granduncle to us, and we miss him.

Now look at the north wall. Which way is north? The first time I saw those 3 photos, Fr. Reilly, Principal Tong, and Fr. Geitner, something did not look right. One of them was still alive. On second thought, everyone in the school had high esteem and great admiration for Fr. Geitner. I hope you will not put my photo on that wall for many, many years.

Fr. Geitner loved science and engineering. He taught biology. In recent years he showed the Primary 6 students how to build a glider and a biplane with a rubber band to spin the propeller. He explained why planes can fly. A Catholic does not have to choose either science or religion, either evolution or the Bible. Correctly interpreted, there is no contradiction. We can enjoy the best of both science and religion. Many things in the Catholic version of Christianity are not either this or that, but both this and that.

Spending 90 years in this world is better than only 35 years. Some time ago, I took holy oil to anoint, to bless, a man who was only 35 years old. I said hello to the people around the hospital bed. One man said, “I’m a Muslim.” I thought to myself, “What can I say to a Muslim at a time like this?” I said to the friend of the sick man, “God has the final say as to how long any of us will live.” The Muslim nodded his head in agreement. Muslims, Jews and Christians have a number of differences, yet we all agree that God is the One who decides the hour of birth and the hour of death. I prayed for the sick man, who died peacefully a few hours later.

We write, “Fr. John Geitner, 1927-2018.” No human being personally selects either of those numbers. We do not select the year of our birth, nor do pick the year of our death. Between those two numbers there is a short line segment, a dash. We have a big say in what happens to us during that dash, between the beginning and the end. A 100 meter dash, a 500 meter dash, 6 years in secondary school, and 90 years and a couple of months, all of those pass and come to an end. It would be great if every one of us would run our race from one end of life to the other as well as Fr. Geitner ran his dash. He went farther because he stopped to pray.

The first reading lists some life-threatening dangers. Today in HK we do not worry about famine. When there is too much rain in summer, vegetables become more expensive, but large ships deliver food from around the world. We have food security. We do not fear bandits with swords or knives. This is a safe city, one of the safest in the world. Some of you will have an opportunity go to university in the USA, where many of your neighbours will have guns. It is good to live in Hong Kong, China. St. Paul did not refer to homework, term exams or the crucial DSE. You face a different set of challenges. Yet you do not have to face them alone. Students help and encourage classmates. Teachers, the social worker, the principal and religious teachers also will listen to your anxieties. Fr. Geitner gave good advice and prayed for many students over the years.

Psalm 122 was sung as pilgrims walked up the stone road from Jericho, the oldest town in the world, up a steep road to Jerusalem to pray in the one and only Jewish temple. I was 1 of 30 members of Rosary Church who flew to Israel on pilgrimage in October 2015. We rode a bus on the same path, which now is a paved highway. I would not want to ascend that long rising road on foot, not even during a cooler month. Just like thousands of years ago, sheep were eating yellow and brown grass on the side of the road. As we headed west, closer to the Mediterranean Sea, the vegetation became greener. We finally saw the city. We were happy to reach to our destination. Fr. Geitner passed through some dry times in his life, but he kept walking. Now he is already inside the gate of his heavenly home, or he will be soon.

In John 11, Jesus uses his power to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. We believe that light is stronger than darkness, love is stronger than hatred, truth is stronger than any lie, and life is stronger than death.

“Death never comes at a convenient moment.” [Fr. William Frazier, MM, my old teacher] And then what? I heard a story about twin brothers. When they were in their mother’s womb, they could not see anything. They did not know there is such a thing as light, but they heard sounds: mom’s heartbeat and voice, other voices, and various sounds from the world outside. They speculated about the bigger world and what might be causing those sounds. Suddenly everything changed. It was time for them to be born. That hurt! They were scared and said to each another: “This is the end of the world! It was nice knowing you! Goodbye forever!” However, after they were born, they discovered that there is life after birth, and that the outer world was different from anything they had imagined.

The Bible and the church tell us that this life is not all there is; death is not the end. The soul lives after death, and we look for the resurrection of the death, the final fulfillment of God’s plan for us. What is heaven like? These funeral prayers do not say. However, the Bible contains messages from the next life, the voice of God speaking in human words. We trust in the mercy of God. Catholics pray for the living and for the dead. We pray in hope. Why? Because we believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. Today we pray for Fr. Geitner. We pray that the hardest part of his existence is behind him. We pray that his endless time of light and joy will soon begin.

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