Funeral homily: Fr. King was courageous as he offered up his sufferings
EDITOR’S NOTE: Following are excerpts from the homily at the Oct. 19 funeral Mass at St. Mark Church in Peoria for Father James King, 55. (See obituary.) The homilist was Father James Loftus, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Danville.
A verse that often comes to mind when I think of Jim is from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 12, when he asks Jesus to take away “the thorn in my flesh.” St. Paul wrote, “Three times I asked the Lord to do this.” And then Jesus tells St. Paul no, that “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Father Jim’s health struggles were definitely a thorn in his side and yet he carried it, I would say, courageously. I never heard him complain much, or really at all. Maybe he would elsewhere. In him you could see both priest and victim — not just doing priestly duties, but also sharing the sufferings of Christ. As Paul would say, “No longer I live, but it is Christ now who lives in me.”
And no doubt he was offering up his sufferings, his prayers, for everyone, but I think in a special way for priests. He had a great love for the priesthood.
LOVE FOR MARY, PRIESTHOOD, THE MASS
Jim also had a great love for Our Lady. His obituary tells us he was born on Dec. 8 — a good day to be born, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. He had a great love for the Blessed Sacrament. When he was in the apartment near here they had a little chapel set up and he would do his Holy Hour each day. He also had The Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas that he’d like to study. He wasn’t able to offer Mass at the end, but I know in spirit he certainly wished to.
Some of you may be familiar with Father King’s compilation of advice to newly ordained priests. He would, for a number of years, give it to bishops and the priests who were newly ordained. My name was on there, but really it was his work. I just offered a few pieces of editing and some quotes. Father Jim’s heart was for priests. He sent one of his compilations to Cardinal George in Chicago and got a thank you note from him.
Jim would wholeheartedly agree with St. Padre Pio that the world would sooner survive without the sun than without the Mass. I’m sure that all of us, as we answer the call to be God’s priests, consider how we can best serve the world and get people to heaven. Maybe after exhausting all the other alternatives we finally realize, “OK God, I think this is where you want me to go. I’ll be your priest. What better can I do than offer that Mass to the world?”
A MINISTRY OF “HIDDENNESS”
Something else I think Father Jim can teach us about is “hiddeness.” I used to help take some of his Spanish Masses at St. Mary’s in East Moline. That was in about 2008. (He would go on leave of absence the next year.) It’s a good example for all of us, whether priest or religious or laity, that God can do great things in little and small ways if we obey him. And we don’t always have to be appreciated, or get a pat on the back or the attention. It’s OK, God sees it, and that’s what counts.
I’d like to thank those who spent a lot of time with Jim, who visited him — the parishioners who helped out, the priests, and in particularly the family. In a special way, his Dad and Mom, Ed and Mary. One of you took the morning and one of you took the afternoon. It was good that you were there with your son. Jesus says in Matthew 25 “I was sick and you visited me.”
Jesus is mysteriously present, and I might say sacramentally present, in the sick in a way unlike anywhere else. It’s attributed to Padre Pio that Jesus is present in the poor and at least twice as present in the sick. I’ve found that to be true in my own ministry as a priest. So not only was Jim sick, and sacramentally made Jesus present there, but also in his priesthood he made the Lord present to us.
THE VALUE OF SUFFERING
One of the prefaces for the funeral reads, “Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended.” In a couple of weeks we’ll approach All Saints Day. We talk about the Communion of the Saints, that the communication lines are not cut off. They simply take another form. So we can pray to our brother, our son, our uncle, and ask him for his prayers. Ask him “Help me to preach.” Preaching in front of other priests is like being back in the seminary and trying out your homiletics again.
So we can always ask him for his prayers as we pray for him in case any stain of sin has clung to him. We look forward to our reunion with Jim forever, and when we see each other we can rejoice together in the mercy of God.
I want to end with a prayer from St. Faustina’s diary of Divine Mercy. She says “If only the suffering soul knew how it was loved by God, it would die of joy and excess happiness. Someday we will know the value of suffering, but then we will no longer be able to suffer.”
We entrust Jim to Our Blessed Mother, as we say together: “Hail Mary, . . . .”