Friday, June 21, 2013

The Requiem Mass for Phil Stafne

The Requiem Mass for
Philip Stafne
(April 26, 1943-May 21, 2013)
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral, Fargo

June 21, 2013

Revelation 21:2-7; John 14:1-6.

+ One month ago today, after hearing of Phil’s passing, I called his sister Marianne. As she and I talked, I found myself doing something  I try not to do—being a priest and all. I found myself breaking down and getting a bit teary as we talked about Phil. As I did so, I apologized to Marianne.

I said, “Marianne, I am so sorry for being so unprofessional.”

Marianne, in her typical way, sort of laughed at me and said, “oh don’t worry, Jamie. I’m sure Phil saw you unprofessional many times. Probably over cocktails.”

Sadly, that is true. Phil did see me unprofessional on more than one occasion. Over more than one cocktail.  But what was so wonderful about Phil was that, even in those moments, there was never any judgment on his part. There was never a feeling that his sense of friendship and caring ever changed. And I think many of us this afternoon felt that from Phil as well in our own lives.

Phil was a very important and major presence in many of our lives.  Just speaking for myself I can say Phil was a very important person in my life of a long time Back, many years ago, when I was discerning my calling to be a priest, Phil was one of the first people I told. And he not only encouraged me. He spearheaded the discernment committee that helped me articulate that calling. Through all those years—those good years and through some of the not-so-good years—Phil remained a very solid and comforting source of support for me.

And I am sure many of us this morning also knew Phil to be that kind of person in our own lives. A person who was an active friend. A person who was proactive in his friendship with us. A person of  strength, of integrity and of impeccable class.

He carried himself with a dignity I still find amazing when I think about it. And that dignity was with him even in his last days, when he was so ill.

He was also a man of deep faith.  That faith was motivating factor in so much of what he did and who he was as a person. For Phil, however, his faith was not something one simply professed with one’s mouth. To live out one’s faith, for Phil, one simply didn’t go to church on Sundays. Or preach from street corners.  One lived one’s faith. Phil lived his faith. He was devoted. He was devoted to his God, he was devoted to his service of others, he was devoted to his family and to his friends,  and he was devoted to his church.

And he served. He served his God, he served his Church—this congregation of Gethsemane Cathedral—and this Diocese of North Dakota—and he served his family and his friends  in any way he could. And he did so consistently without complaint. He did do without blinking an eye.  He did so with strength and purpose.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find Jesus saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” I don’t think in all the years I knew Phil did I ever see his heart troubled. For him, his faith sustained him, no matter what happened. When he was diagnosed with cancer, Phil was steadfast. His heart was not troubled.  And I know for a fact, his faith was strong and remained strong to the end.

It is a great lesson for all of us. And we find, on this day, that Phil, by his example, is still leading the way for us.  Today, yes, we are sad. We are sad over the fact that Phil is not here with us as he once was.

But, with faith like the faith Phil had, we know that these tears we shed today are temporary. Whatever sadness we feel today will not be the final word in our relationship with Phil. With a faith like his faith, we know that the God we hope in and believe in and worship is a God of life. This God of life promises us, who are faithful like Phil was faithful,  a life that cannot be taken from us again.  A life that will overcome death and sadness and all these temporary sad emotions.

Yes, I am saddened by the fact that Phil is not here with us, being that solid and comforting source of strength for us. But Phil would be quick to tell us that although he might not be here doing that, he would direct us to that source of his own strength and integrity—his faith. His God.

And what we can take away from having known Phil, was his example. He gave each of us an incredible example of how to live one’s life and one’s faith with strength and class and dignity. And when any of us do that in our own lives, we will know that Phil is still with us, still being an example to us, still being a brother, uncle and dear and devoted friend to each of us.

I will miss Phil. I will miss his presence, his kindness, his friendship and his sense of caring. But I rejoice today as well. I rejoice in the fact that I believe Phil is has achieved the goal of that place of which we catch a glimpse of in our reading from Revelation. That place in which “Death will be no more…”  Where “mourning and crying and pain will be no more…” Because God will “wipe every tear from [our] eyes.”

It a glorious place. It is a place Phil longed for and hoped in and believed in. And I have no problem seeing him, this afternoon, in that place of glory.

As some of you know, Phil was a direct descendent of the great American poet Anne Bradstreet.  Anne Bradstreet’s maiden was Dudley—that’s where the family connection comes from.  Mistress Bradstreet, as she was known in her day, was a prolific and major poet in the colonial era of America(she died in 1672)  and her poems are still widely read and widely admired. And she was not just any poet.  Anne Bradstreet was the first American writer in English, and the first American female poet to have her works published. Phil proudly claimed Anne Bradstreet as his ancestor.  I remember the day he told me about his being a descent of her’s and his surprise and delight that I actually knew who she was.

I’m going to close today with a portion of a poem by Anne Bradstreet. The poem, appropriately, is called “As weary pilgrim, now at rest” In many ways, it echoes the words we heard this afternoon in our reading the Book of Revelation. It’s a beautiful poem and it’s one that I know Phil himself appreciated:

“As weary pilgrim, now at rest” by Anne Bradstreet

Oh how I long to be at rest
and soare on high among the blest.
This body shall in silence sleep
Mine eyes no more shall ever weep
No fainting fits shall me assaile
nor grinding paines my body fraile
Wth cares and fears ne'r cumbred be
Nor losses know, nor sorrowes see
What tho my flesh shall there consume
it is the bed Christ did perfume
And when a few yeares shall be gone
this mortall shall be cloth'd vpon
A Corrupt Carcasse downe it lyes
a glorious body it shall rise
In weaknes and dishonour sowne
in power 'tis rais'd by Christ alone
Then soule and body shall vnite
and of their maker haue the sight
Such lasting ioyes shall there behold
as eare ne'r heard nor tongue e'er told
Lord make me ready for that day
then Come deare bridgrome Come away.

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