Jack Gilgun lived for this day.
Jack prepared for this day. Jack Gilgun was not afraid of death. Jack Gilgun lived his faith.
Don’t accuse me of making Jack into a Saint! Only God can do that.
Jack believed Jesus’ promise of eternal life.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.… the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven…, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
As Catholics we don’t make up this stuff. We rely upon Scripture, the Gospel and Jesus’ promises.
Jack was a daily communicant.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am a widower, and a father of six children. I need you to know this so I can tell some stories, and no one should call Cardinal O’Malley about scandal in St. Charles Borromeo Parish. My children attended St. Charles School. Some of them were baptized here by Fr. Bernard Gilgun, Jack’s brother, and received First Communion here in this Church. Jack, Rosemarie and Rosemary attended these events. My wife, Cynthia, died years ago of cancer. I have been a priest for five years in the Diocese of Austin, Texas.
I am a convert to the Catholic Church. Jack’s brother, David, is my Godfather, and also the Godfather to all of my children. Jack’s daughter, Rosemary, is the Godmother to one of my daughters.
Some 40 or 50 years ago, Jack’s brother, Fr. Bernard Gilgun, shared with me, “Saints don’t come one at a time; they come in small groups.” I have found that to be absolutely true, as you can see if you read the lives of the Saints. Fr. Bernard was careful to explain to me that there are “Saints” with a capital “S”, but that there are many, many more saints who aren’t singled out as models for the Universal Church, but who lived their lives faithfully. He was referring to his mother, and Aunt Annie and Aunt Josie, all of whom helped raise Jack, Bernard, Freddy, Lolly, Dickie, David, Margaret, Mary, Rose and little Helen. The stories were about a family that took their faith seriously, and taught their stories and values to their children and grandchildren.
David and I met in Texas while he was in the Service during the Vietnam War. He never missed Mass; but he never would invite me to go to Mass with him. Meanwhile, he would never stop telling me his family stories. Have you ever noticed the power of stories? Especially the stories about holy, faithful people, even saints? I was seventeen. The stories were powerful.
I learned about Jack’s father, a postman who did countless acts of mercy daily on his rounds, and was chosen by his pastor to be a trusted minister to the poor of Woburn with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. I learned about his mother, Rose, “Nana”, who tended to her sickly daughter, Rose, until the end of her short life. David was proud of his brother the priest, Fr. Bernard, and his tireless efforts for racial justice and for the poorest of the poor. He was proud of his brother, Freddy, the judge. And he told me stories about his brother, Jack, the Mayor of Woburn, and President of the National Association of Mayors. I heard stories of Dickie, Lolly the school principal, Margaret and Mary. What was revealed in these stories was a family that took their faith seriously.
To David, these were family stories. But for me, these were formative stories of the relationship between faith and character. These were Jack’s stories. These stories shaped my life in ways that I don’t have time to share with you today. When I met my wife, I knew what kind of family I wanted with her. I learned to love the Catholic Church through these family stories. These stories showed what is possible for a Catholic family of faith.
Jack died in the same week as the Solemnity of All Saints, and the Feast of All Souls, when the entire Church turned to pray for all the souls in purgatory, the faithful departed. Today, we count Jack among the souls in Purgatory, and we offer this Mass for his salvation.
Was Jack a saint? I don’t know. What I do know is that he lived his life as if he believed Jesus’ words. If we follow these words, it won’t make us perfect; but they will allow us to be saved. I know I am not a saint. I’d rather be saved than perfect.
At Sacred Heart Parish in Austin, I frequently ask my parishioners, “Do you want to have eternal life?” We are in the custom of talking back and forth to each other at Mass. So I ask you, do you want to live forever?
If you say “Yes”, then I tell you, like I tell them,
“If you are baptized, there are only three things you have to do:
First, don’t miss Mass. Third Commandment of the Ten Commandments: “Keep Holy the Sabbath”.
Second, receive Holy Communion as often as you can. Jesus promised us,
“Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life….
And, third, if you fall off the bicycle, go to Confession. We all fall off the bicycle. Jesus gave the power of forgiveness of sins to the Church.
It’s almost too simple. But if you do these things, everything else falls in place. If you do these things, you will live forever, because Jesus gave us that promise. The Sacramental Life isn’t magic, but it is transformative.
Jesus defeated death. During the funeral Mass we say what the Church believes about death,
“Indeed, for your faithful, Lord,
life is changed, not ended,
and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust,
an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.”
This is our faith. Don’t be afraid to tell your faith stories. Such stories can change the world.