Mourners from near and far, and all walks of life and various creeds, filled the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland, Md., March 28 for the funeral Mass of Cardinal William H. Keeler, 14th archbishop of Baltimore. Thirty prelates, including six cardinals, and dozens of priests and deacons mourned Cardinal Keeler, who died March 28 at 86, and commended his soul to God.
In his homily, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, described the “indefatigable, friendly, ever-unflappable gentleman of faith, William Cardinal Keeler,” who took to heart a bit of advice to priests from St. John Paul II: “Love for Jesus and his Church must be the passion of your life.” “He not only knew the quote, he lived it and radiated it,” Cardinal Dolan said.
The liturgy included a message from Pope Francis, delivered and read by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., in which the pope expressed his condolences for the loss of the “wise and gentle pastor.”
The readings and Gospel held special meaning for the cardinal, who chose them himself.
In the first reading, Moses exhorts the Israelites to “love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deut 6:5).
The cardinal’s episcopal motto, “Do the work of an evangelist,” came from the words of second reading: “But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5)
The Gospel described Jesus’ call to his first Apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John, who left their work as fishermen to follow him.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Archbishop Lori, the main celebrant, thanked members of the cardinal’s family “for sharing Cardinal Keeler with us all these many years, and sharing him so generously.”
He also thanked the Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate St. Martin’s Home, “For welcoming him into your home as you would welcome Christ.”
“And in particular,” the archbishop said, “I’d like to thank Sister Lourdes for her special loving care.”
The sisters received a standing ovation.
The archbishop also reflected on the last four or five years of Cardinal Keeler’s life, drawing a parallel between it and the “grand silence,” a former seminary tradition which called for silence from 9 p.m. every evening until Holy Mass was celebrated the following day.
It was not the most popular rule, the archbishop remembered, “and rumor has it there were many infractions – I wouldn’t know about that.”
Nevertheless, Archbishop Lori said, the grand silence was valuable as a time of prayer and rest which “taught the important lesson of preparing one’s mind and heart for the next day and the important responsibilities each new day brings.”
“Over these last four or five years, nature gradually imposed on Cardinal Keeler what we might term a ‘grand silence,’” the archbishop continued, adding that, though it was a “heavy cross,” he was “impressed by the cardinal’s silence, for even in his silence, William Henry Keeler maintained a beautiful dignity” rooted in his person and manifested in his friendships and care for the church.
Furthermore, Archbishop Lori said, the cardinal’s final “grand silence” was a new part of his formation, “a crucible where his priestly heart was purified for the job of seeing God face-to-face.”
Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and archbishop emeritus of Baltimore, offered the final commendation, and Cardinal Keeler’s eight pallbearers carried his remains out of the cathedral, where deacons, priests, bishops and cardinals chanted “Salve Regina.”
A funeral procession brought his remains to their final resting place, the Baltimore Basilica.
(Erik Zygmont writes for the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.)
By Erik Zygmont, Special to The Witness