Funeral Mass for Father Mitchell Fidyka
[Job 19:1, 23-27; Psalm 103; 2Corinthians 4:14-5:1; Mark 15:33-39, 16:1-6]
At the opening of this homily, allow me to express, on behalf of the Archdiocese and everyone gathered here, our heartfelt condolences to the members of Fr. Mitch Fidyka’s family: his brother Zbigniew and nephew Krzysztof, who have traveled to be present for this funeral mass, and to other family members joining us via livestream. I want to assure you not only of our prayers, but also of the love and esteem in which we have long held Fr. Mitch. We are immensely grateful to God for his presence and ministry among us. The texts from Sacred Scripture proclaimed in this morning’s liturgy help us both to appreciate and articulate the positive influence he has had on this Archdiocese.
As the faithful women made their way to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body, St. Mark tells us they were wondering who would roll away for them the heavy stone at the entrance to the grave. This is more than a merely practical consideration. Their inability to remove the stone symbolically evokes the utter futility of any human resource or skill before the mystery of death, which is the one inescapable fact of every human life. I was struck by the way Fr. Mitch faced his death when he knew it was imminent. In one of our conversations, he said, “You know, not everyone gets to live to be 100. This is my time.” Unlike many people who fear death and face its inevitability with anxiety and dread, Fr. Mitch was possessed of a deep tranquility as he approached the end of his own earthly existence.
This is because, as a Christian, he knew that the stone had been moved, and who had pushed it away. The re-positioned boulder revealing an empty tomb proclaims God’s intervention in the mystery of death to overcome it. By the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has rolled away the power of death itself. Death no longer stands irresistibly between humanity and God, but has become the accessible gateway to eternal life with Him. Fr. Mitch, a baptized disciple of Jesus Christ, was utterly convinced of this truth and lived from it. From the announcement of the rolled-away tombstone there developed in his heart the immovable rock of faith. Echoing the certainty of ancient Job, yet now with a conviction and insight informed by the empty tomb, Fr. Mitch knew that his Redeemer, who, yes, now lives, had died in our assumed human nature and was raised from the dead, so that he and all believers might pass through death to live with God forever.
Like all Christians, Fr. Mitch was called by his Baptism and Confirmation to share his faith conviction with others. We all know that he was convinced of many things and had very strong opinions, often expressed with a rather marked enthusiasm. His deepest conviction, however, which he wanted to share most ardently, was that of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At a certain moment in his life, he realized that he was called by the Lord to share his faith conviction with others as a priest. The specific capacity of the priest to announce the paschal mystery emerges as we continue to ponder the Gospel text, particularly what it says about the centurion.
Having witnessed the death of Jesus as he stood by the Cross, the soldier reacted with words that both captured and revealed the truth of the One he saw perish: “Truly, this man was God’s Son!” From what he saw unfold visibly before his own eyes, the centurion was given an interior insight into who Jesus truly is – the Son of God made flesh. With every celebration of the Eucharist, the priest stands near the Cross as the self-sacrifice Jesus once made at Calvary is sacramentally renewed on the altar of the mass. He stands by it, because through his priestly agency the sacrifice of the Cross is rendered present in the Eucharistic liturgy. Due to this sacred ministry of the priest, he, together with his people, stand before the mystery of the Cross, and are able to see and announce far more than did the centurion. They become witnesses to the truth that the Lord who did die now lives and remains wondrously present in the midst of his people. In contrast to the young man dressed in white, who indicated to the faithful women where the lifeless body of the crucified Jesus was no longer to be found, the people of God now can point to where the Mystical Body of the Risen Jesus is perennially present. This is because of the unique service rendered by the priest at the altar. In this incomparable way, the priest serves the announcement that alone can roll away the stones of sin, fear, bitterness and division that entomb us in despair: the proclamation that Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is the Eternal Son of God.
Fully dedicated to this unique ministry, Fr. Mitch came to us from Poland where he was ordained, served first as a member of the Oblate order, and then as a priest of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. In every parochial assignment, he announced the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ by the faithful exercise of what he knew the Lord and his Archbishop expected of him, even if at times it seemed he was running far ahead of them both. Yet perhaps his greatest act of witness is that which he gave in the final months of his life.
Looking ahead to the future resurrection of those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ, St. Paul said this: “Even though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” This is what I saw in Fr. Mitch over the last while. The momentary affliction of cancer did, indeed, cause his outer self to waste away, but our brother and friend spoke not of this but of the inner renewal that the Lord was fashioning within him. In this way he gave witness to the truth that the Word of God is entirely trustworthy because God was fulfilling for him what was promised by the Sacred Scriptures. In other words, his example says to us all: when the Scriptures proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, believe it, and allow that truth to roll away any and all anxiety, especially fear before the mystery of death.
Now, in this mass, we pray for Fr. Mitch Fidyka and entrust his soul to the mercy of God. By God’s tender grace, may Fr. Mitch, who as priest stood by the Cross in the Eucharistic banquet set for God’s People, now rejoice forever in the presence of the Risen Lord, our High Priest, at the eternal feast prepared for all God’s faithful ones.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
February 3rd, 2021