Friday, January 5, 2018
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the funeral Mass for Father Brendan Dalton, celebrated Jan. 5, 2018 at St. Bernadette Parish in Hollywood.
Today we gather to bid our final farewell to someone who was for us a priest and pastor of souls, a brother, and a friend. We commend him to the mercy of the Lord whom he served with joy and constancy. Our condolences to his brother, Fr. Bryan Dalton, his two sisters, Rosemary and Mona, and his nephews and nieces. Bryan, our gratitude to your parents who gave two sons to the service of the Church — here in South Florida, certainly a faraway and exotic place for a family from County Kerry. You and your brother, Brendan, along with your two uncles who were priests in Louisville, Kentucky, represent a long line of dedicated missionary priests from Ireland. After 48 years of faithful service, you will now carry his body back home from burial.
But besides our condolences to his flesh and blood family, allow me to extend condolences to his parish family here at St. Bernadette. He was truly a father to all of you, as he was to the faculty and students at Archbishop Edward McCarthy High School. How many of you here today were baptized by Fr. Dalton? Raise your hand, and keep your hand up. How many received first Communion from him? Raise your hands. How many were married by him, or your kids were married by him? Raise your hands. How many had a friend or loved one buried by him? How many were visited by him when you were sick? How many found a word of encouragement, advice or counsel from him? How many knew him as a friend? I could keep asking more questions. But you can see with all these hands in the air, there is not a person he did not touch in his priestly ministry.
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.”
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. Brendan Dalton was one of those worthy priests; 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 and beyond. His 48 years of priestly service was more than about administration and paying bills, his work was about the People of God, it was about touching their souls, healing their hearts, and praying for their needs. His was a ministry to service, not of celebrity. And he ministered faithfully and with humility — nothing he did was about himself, it was always about the Lord.
And that’s why he loved being a being a priest, and why he loved being your pastor. He would tell you, if you asked him, “There is no better job, no greater calling than that of being a Catholic priest.” In fact, he did tell you that — after his 40th anniversary as a priest, he self-published a book of reflections called, “Walking with Jesus...every day. A year in the life of a priest.”
He walked with Jesus — and he invited you to walk with Jesus as well. I think this is a good definition of a Christian — simply someone who walks with Jesus on his or her life’s journey.
Walking with Jesus will take us to glory — but the road to heavenly glory passes by the way of the cross. Every person’s life in this “valley of tears” 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 people’s growth and the forging of their character. As St. John Chrysostom said: Tribulations not only do not destroy hope, they are its foundation. These last several months were difficult ones for Father Dalton — he fought the good fight, and, walking with Jesus along the Way of the Cross of his illness, he kept the faith.
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 priests prays, as Father Dalton 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 also comfort us: “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also rise with him.”