I admit to being a little intimidated today. I have never done a funeral for a man who chose his pall bearers forty years ago. John’s son, Jack shared with me that when he went to arrange this funeral with the funeral director, he was handed an envelope. John Selman had the entire funeral mapped out. The funeral director said that John opened that file with him in 2015.
We are going to honor John Selman’s wishes today.
However, we have two tasks above all else that we must undertake this morning at this funeral.
The first is to pray for John’s soul, that God will receive him into Heaven. We are not John’s judges, and John’s salvation is only up to God. However, the Church has taught that we can and should offer prayers of intercession for the souls of our faithful departed. That is why we pray for souls in purgatory.
The second task is to pray for ourselves, to strengthen our own faith and hope in our own Resurrection. “Lord, let it be so, for me!”
Those two tasks are the reason for two thousand years of Christian funerals. We pray for eternal life for John and for ourselves. That is why we do funerals. And that is how we do funerals. We don’t canonize saints. We pray for Eternal Life. I sometimes get Catholics who tell me they don’t want a funeral. We all need funerals.
On a Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, Jack called me to say that his father was requesting the “Last rites”.
When I arrived at the nursing facility John appeared alert and I asked him, “How are you doing, John?”
John replied, “I’m dying, Padre.”
John’s family was present, and after the sacraments we visited for a while. It was the week of the scriptures we read in all our churches about the “Just Man” and the “Salt of the Earth” and the “Light of the World.” When Jack called me that morning I was beginning to work on my homily.
Recall Jesus saying,
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world . . . .”
The Psalm that weekend said,
The just man is a light in the darkness for the upright.
Light shines through the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious and merciful and just.
I asked John if he was watching Mass on the television in his room, and he said, “Yes”. I said, be sure to watch Sunday Mass tomorrow, because the readings were about him. I asked John if I could read those Mass scriptures to him, and we shared those together with the family present.
I told him, “John, that is you! Those scriptures are about you.”
John helped establish Sacred Heart Parish, both the church and the school. Some 40-50 years ago, John helped set up the St. Vincent de Paul Society to care for the poor in our parish. John and Lois and the family moved to this parish of St. Theresa, but John never left the ministry St. Vincent de Paul Society at Sacred Heart Parish. Over the years he channeled thousands of dollars into that ministry, often purchasing hundreds of gift cards for the ministers to hand out to the neediest families in East Austin. Some of the homes John personally visited overlook the cemetery where we will bury John today.
I’m sorry that another St. Vincent partner of John and long-time minister at our parish, Alicia Martinez, could not be here today, as she passed away a couple of years ago. Alicia collected John Selman stories and would often share them with me and others. One of those was something John shared, laughing with her, that his son, Jack, had told him that John was not going to get a headstone on his grave. Instead, Jack told him that there would only be an “ATM Machine” on his grave.
If you want to know it there really is an ATM machine on John’s grave, you’ll have to come with us after Mass to the cemetery.
John was mindful of the poor. I think he may have fleeced many of you to help him support the poorest families in Austin.
As we visited, I shared with John the first reading from that Sunday, from Isaiah,
Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
That was John Selman. Those scriptures fit John Selman, a “Just Man.”
Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’