I have had difficulty with preparing this homily. What do I call this man? Many of you knew him as Mr. Coonan, or Coach Terry. Some of you were lucky enough to call him dad, or like me, grandpa. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call him William Stephen, but rather always Terry. So I think I’ll call him grandpa for the sake of simplicity, but you all know who I’m talking about.
Another reason this is difficult is because, of course, grandpa is family, and in fact, I’ve never done this before. And while I’m not here to canonize this man, because like all of us, he had his imperfections and sins and needs our prayers, I would still like to use this homily to spread around some of the good that he has poured into the hearts of so many. I want to look at his life in terms of legacy: what good has he left behind? How is the world a better place because of the way he chose to live day after day?
Before I get into those points though, we have to say that Grandpa’s legacy can only be understood in the context of his wife of almost 62 years. He and grandma Dolly were a witness to what marriage can do, to how it can purify us, and how if we embrace the challenges of it and lay ourselves down, we reap great benefits. I can think of a few things:
1. I chose this Gospel reading because I think it is ultimately one of the most important aspects of grandpa’s life. The final test, Jesus tells us today, is summed up in what Mother Teresa called the “five-finger” Gospel: “You did it to me.” I am sure that with 50 years of service in the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, coach saw Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor and marginalized. For 50 years, he and Dolly tried their best to love Jesus right in their community. I can only imagine what the welcome will be like for them when so many people on the other side come up to them and say “thank you for giving to us.”
2. And that leads to the next part of the legacy. He gave an example of the true meaning of life: giving of ourselves to others, sincerely, and faithfully.
a. His Wife. Nothing shapes a married man more than his wife and his ability to love her with his whole heart. Dolly made grandpa complete, and it was so evident that since Holy Thursday 2015, half of his heart was in another place. Over the years, they learned the depths of love together, and they loved to the very end.
b. His children. Whether it was in family dinners, celebrating birthdays, going on vacations to national parks or the lake, or just playing out in the yard, he clearly invested in his children. And even if his life was more of a public one, with time spent away, nothing was more important to him than coming home. I think it is easy to see that grandpa and grandma were proud of their kids – every one of you. I’m sure that every day they prayed for you and they thanked God for you.
c. His students and athletes. We all hear stories all the time of the lives he influenced. Last night was full of them. Coach gave and gave. He cared about his players and showed it by how he treated them and built them up. They grew because of him.
3. Parable of the Sower. We don’t see all that we sow, and we don’t always get to share in all the benefits. We plant, but often the hard work goes to someone else.
So there is his legacy. It is people. It is the love that he sowed quietly in the hearts of all of us here and hundreds who are not here. As we pray for God to receive grandpa in his mercy, we also give thanks for the love that God has poured into our hearts from grandpa’s hands. Lord, thank you for your son William Stephen, Coach Terry, dad, grandpa. Help us commit our lives to sowing the same love in our world and hear you say at the end of our days: “Come blessed of my Father…for whatever you did to the least of these, you did it to me.”