Funeral homily: Father Richard Mullen was generous, devoted, a “priest’s priest”

Father Richard L. Mullen

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the homily from the March 28 funeral Mass for Father Richard Mullen, a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria. (Read his obituary here.) The funeral was celebrated at Holy Cross Church in Champaign, and the homilist was Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

The early Christians called themselves “The Living.” That is because in Christ, they discovered life itself. Real life. True life. Eternal and indestructible life. That means living and not just existing.

Christians, then and today, do live in the sure and certain hope that they are called to a fullness of life that far exceeds the dimensions of time.

Our relationship with God in Jesus Christ is the source of a life that death can never take away. Death will not have the last word. Christ conquered death by enduring death. Christ destroyed death through the invincible power of his eternal love. Christ trampled death underfoot and he leads the way in the full and everlasting life.

Brothers and sisters, as we proclaim so intensely during Holy Week, Christ is risen! Christ is truly risen! And as St. Paul once assured the Christians in the church of Corinth, we know that when this earthly tent in which we dwell is destroyed, we have a dwelling provided for us with God that will last forever.

This faith, this reality, this unshakable conviction should utterly transform the way we live our lives in time, in expectancy of eternity. As Jesus once declared, “Because I live, you will live as well.” In imitation of Jesus, we must try to live the works of love that lead to the eternal bliss of heaven.

FROM FOOTBALL FIELD TO NAVY TO SEMINARY

It would be hard to think of a better example of Christian living in the works of love and unshakable faith in the resurrection than the life and ministry of Father Richard Mullen. Even before he became a great priest and pastor, he was already something of a great guy. His parents moved their family from the countryside to Bloomington so the kids could benefit from a Catholic education.

In football, Dick was what is called a “triple threat.”  He could pass. He could run. He could kick. He played high school football at Holy Trinity, and in college he played at Indiana State. If the various stories I’ve heard are accurate, I understand that one year he was the second highest scorer in the entire nation, surpassed only by some kid from Notre Dame.

He next went into the Navy, and after military service, went into the seminary for our diocese at St. Meinrad’s, to which he maintained a lifelong loyalty and often returned for retreats.

Dick served our diocese in a number of ministries — at country parishes, at the St. John Newman Center, at The Catholic Post, and for many years, here at Holy Cross Parish, where he was a beloved pastor and where he built the beautiful parish center.

He was especially esteemed by the priests of our diocese for his years heading the personnel board, where under Bishop O’Rourke Father Mullen basically made the assignments. I am told that he always tried to get the right guy in the right place, which I can assure you from personal experience has never been either an easy or infallible task.

Dick was always what priests like to call a “priest’s priest.” As generous and devoted as he was to serving the laity, Father Mullen deeply valued and obviously enjoyed the company of his brother priests. Regularly, right up to until just before he died, he joined priest friends for lunch and priest friends for dinner.  He greatly enjoyed when priests visited him, even in the last days of his life.

Father Mullen served as a priest in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. He kept abreast of current events.

Father Mullen served as a priest in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. He kept abreast of current events. He loved books and remained an avid reader all his long life.

ACCEPTED LIFE, DEATH AS THEY CAME

Just about two weeks ago, Father Mullen was scheduled to come to my house in Peoria for dinner with some other priests. He had to cancel because he was feeling nauseous. When his nausea continued, he went to the doctor. It was then that he discovered he had pancreatic cancer, and the cancer had already spread throughout his entire body. He had a long conversation with his doctor, and he prudently decided that at the age of 92, there was no need to undergo treatments.

In faith he accepted both life and death as they came.

He kept his sense of humor and jokingly gave his hospice nurse a bit of a hard time just as he continued to tease his visitors. He told me on the phone he wanted to make his remaining time on earth to prepare for heaven.

Like all of us in the Peoria priesthood, he had been inspired and deeply moved by the example of Msgr. Greg Ketcham, at whose funeral Mass he concelebrated. Greg faced his own death with enormous faith, and just like Greg, Father Mullen said he just wanted to see the face of Jesus.

Dick had always been a man of prayer, but his prayer life deepened and increased as he grew older. His dear friend, Father Matt Hoelscher, told me that in the morning before Dick got out of bed, he would first think of a phrase from the Scripture and then reflect on it throughout the day.

As a retired priest, now free from all the strictures of parish schedules, he would often take as much as three hours to say Mass on his kitchen table, savoring every word of the eucharistic liturgy.  Now when I was getting vested some priests to tell me there may have been another reason why he took three hours which us older folks in the congregation may well understand.

As we celebrate together this funeral Mass for Father Richard Mullen it is good to remember that the Mass always unites those called the living with all those who live in Christ. Those who have gone before us, the saints in glory, our brothers and sisters in purgation, and those of us alive in this world, we are all one body and Christ is our head. At Mass we do already begin to see the face of Jesus. We do already share in the victory of Our Lord’s life, his death, and his resurrection, because he promised that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood will never really die. And we know we have the assurance of eternity.

May all the priests here, starting especially with me, endeavor to imitate Father Mullen’s good example of generous service to God’s people. May each and every one of us, like Father Mullen, daily deepen our lives of prayer, praise, and adoration. At this funeral Mass, celebrated during these awesome days of Holy Week, may we all treasure and remember the glorious truth that has changed the world. And the greatest of all truths that has changed all of our lives.

Christ is risen! Christ is truly risen!

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