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Father Bryan Dalton: a witness to hope

Archbishop Wenski's homily at funeral for Father Bryan Dalton

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the funeral Mass for Father Bryan Dalton, 73, who died Nov. 30, 2018. The Mass took place Dec. 4, 2018 at St. Ambrose Church, Deerfield Beach.

Today, we pray for the Eternal Repose of the soul of Father Bryan Dalton, a holy priest and a zealous pastor of souls. My condolences to the Dalton family:  his sisters, Mona and Rosemary, and Father’s many nephews and nieces. Mona who has often traveled here to be with Bryan, especially during these years he struggled with cancer, will accompany his body back to County Kerry, Ireland, where he will be buried near his parents and his brother, Father Brendan Dalton. His brother Brendan, only 11 months older, died only last December. Brendan and Bryan are what you call “Irish twins”: They were born 11 months apart – and they died 11 months apart. Each one was a priest for 48 years, both serving here in the Archdiocese of Miami. Mona, the priests and people of this Archdiocese are grateful to the Dalton family for the gift of these two priests who followed their uncles – likewise priests – who came to America from Ireland as missionaries.

Father Bryan went home to the Lord just as we began the Advent Season. Advent challenges us to get ready for the Lord who is to come by getting our own lives in order – by living in the world but as citizens of the world to come, by seeking to repair the brokenness of our world through our efforts to reconcile with those we have offended, or ignored, or marginalized. Advent teaches us that we have nothing to fear about Jesus’ Second Coming as long as we don’t deny his First Coming, as long as we do not resist the ways he comes to us today – in word and in sacrament, and also in our brothers and sisters, especially in those who are the “least among his brethren.” 

We prepare to welcome Jesus by living our lives not just for the present moment, not just for ourselves but in view of eternity.  God made us to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world, so as to be happy with him for all eternity in the world to come. To know him, to love him and to serve him…we learn this in the catechism lesson of our youth. Isn’t this the lesson that Father Bryan sought to teach his parishioners? And isn’t this what Father Bryan lived as a baptized Catholic and an ordained priest?   Isn’t this the way of the “Beatitudes” as Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount? 

For this reason, even while there is sadness today, we are not sad for Father Bryan; rather we are sad for ourselves, for our loss. We entrust him to the Mercy of our loving God whom he knew, whom he loved and whom he served. And because God keeps his promises – another lesson we can draw from the Advent season – we trust that Bryan Dalton – along with those who have gone before him – will be happy with God for all eternity.

Like Father Bryan 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 not we. The mercy of God will always be greater our own weakness and unworthiness. Each one of us priests would want to be remembered as well and as fondly as the Dalton brothers are remembered by their parishioners. So many people touched by their ministry. 

Since we priests know our own human frailty, we are not shy in asking for prayers for Bryan – 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 during the Easter Vigil, the priest prays as Father Dalton did the many times he presided at the Vigil Mass in the early evening of Holy Saturday: “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”  The words of St. Paul continue to comfort us: "If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will rise with Him.” 

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, 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. And so, Father Dalton, even as he bravely fought cancer in the past years and 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, knowing, loving and serving God.

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 the 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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