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'A worthy priest'

Archbishop Wenski's homily at funeral Mass for Father John McLaughlin

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the funeral Mass for Father John McLaughlin, June 20 at St. Martha Church.

Today, we gather to bid farewell to Father John McLaughlin, a “gentle and humble” pastor of souls. He served as parochial vicar in several parishes in the archdiocese; he also served in various high schools in the archdiocese. He was pastor here at St. Martha’s for 15 years – and then at Blessed Sacrament in Oakland Park for 10 years until retirement in 2003. But one doesn’t “retire” from being a priest. You might retire from administration but not from priesthood. As I like to tell priests on their retirement: Now you can be as occupied as you want to be – without being preoccupied.

Well, even in retirement, Father John stayed occupied – he was a cruise ship chaplain, not only to the well-heeled passengers but also to the crews. And, when the great recession saw the archdiocese obliged to make cuts in programs and in staff, he stepped in to fill the gap. He undertook ministry among the seafarers at Port Everglades, visiting crews on cargo ships; and he undertook on his own initiative – and supported by his dear friends Mark and Frances – a ministry to our retired priests.

St. John Eudes once said: “...the greatest effect of God’s mercy, the most precious grace He bestows upon mankind, is to send worthy priests, men after His own heart, seeking only His glory and the salvation of souls.”

In Father John McLaughlin, we had a “worthy priest” – his ministry was one of service not of celebrity. As priests we touch and influence people — for good or for ill — in ways that we may never be aware of, at least on this side of eternity. And I hope that now, from his side of eternity, he is aware of the influence for good that he had in the lives of so many people here in the Archdiocese of Miami.

Like John McLaughlin was, every priest here is privileged to serve God and his people in this awesome vocation of the holy priesthood. And even though we carry this treasure in the “earthen vessels” of our frail humanity and sinfulness, it is a holy priesthood because as “other Christs” we share in our Lord’s own high priesthood in our ministry of Word and Sacrament. God uses imperfect instruments to work his will so that we will know that it is He who saves and not we. And since we priests know our own human frailty, we are not shy in asking for prayers for him — and when we die, we beg your prayers for us, confident that the love of Jesus Christ who gave us the gift of the priesthood is stronger than death.

The Paschal Candle stands beside the coffin at every Mass of Christian burial — just as it stands by the font at baptisms. Five grains of incense represent the five wounds of Christ. Those five grains in the form of a cross are framed by the Greek letters, Alpha and Omega, symbolizing Christ — our beginning and our end. When the candle is lit after the blessing of the new fire on Holy Saturday evening, the priest prays — as Father John prayed the many times he celebrated the Easter Vigil: “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” The words of St. Paul then comfort us: “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also rise with him.”

Here in the Archdiocese of Miami, when one of our priests dies, each parish makes a contribution for special Masses to be celebrated for him. These Masses are commended to priests in mission lands — where often the only income available to a priest is his Mass stipend. And so even as we offer this Mass for the repose of Father John’s soul, please know that other Masses will be offered for him throughout the whole world in coming months. 

Every person’s life is lived under the sign of the Cross. Experience shows, especially when that experience is interpreted in the light of the wisdom that age gives, experience shows that life’s difficulties, by God’s grace, contribute to peoples’ growth and the forging of their character. From adversity comes a light that can brighten the years of old age, for as St. John Chrysostom said: Tribulations not only do not destroy hope, they are its foundation. These last months and weeks of Father’s life were not easy – and I thank Father Tony Mulderry and Susan Schulz for their support of Father in his last days. And yet, as they can tell you, Father even in his infirmities of these last several months gave us a witness to hope, a witness of priestly integrity and the joy that comes from walking through this life as a friend of Jesus. 

In fact, that’s all we need to say about John McLaughlin: he was a priest who lived his priesthood as a friend of Jesus; that explains his zeal for souls; that explains his devotion to his Church; that explains his love for Jesus. He was a “gentle and humble” pastor of souls.

In gratitude for his faith, his long years of priestly service, and his perseverance in his vocation, we commend him to Mary, the mother of all priests, whom we invoke as Queen of the Clergy.

Eternal Rest grant unto him, O Lord. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the Mercy of God rest in peace. Amen. 


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