Full transcription of the homily at the funeral Mass for Father Ronald Dodd
EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is a transcription of the homily at the funeral Mass for Father Ronald Dodd. The Mass was celebrated at St. Bernard Church in Peoria on Feb. 19, and the homilist was Father Adam Cesarek, parochial vicar of parishes in Pontiac, Flanagan, Chenoa, and Lexington. Father Dodd’s obituary is found here.
Dear Gayle, Stephen, Richard, and Mark, the family, the friends, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Father Dodd:
On behalf of Bishop Jenky, Monsignor Kruse, and all the priests of the Diocese of Peoria, the priests who are here today, and myself, we offer our condolences to you on your loss. Know that we mourn with you today in the loss of this very good man and this holy priest, this brother of ours whose soul we ask the Lord to welcome into heaven today.
I’d like to begin today by asking you all to join me in a very simple prayer. Take a moment now to ask the Lord to be with us in a profound way.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus, teach us to be humble.
Jesus teach us how to love.
Jesus, teach us how to suffer.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Humility, love, and long-suffering. I ask us to reflect upon those three things today as we reflect upon the life of this man and the life of Jesus Christ. It’s ultimately those that Jesus came for — to teach us humility, to teach us how to love, and to teach us how to suffer.
NUMBER 1: HUMILITY
I want to begin with humility. If anyone has the ability to prideful it is God, and God alone. God could have done whatever he wanted to do, but God chose to enter into our world in humility . . . as a little baby, to a little family, in an insignificant town called Nazareth as he came into the world of his mother. How profound it is that the God of all gods, the King of all kings, would come into this world as that — humbly, simply, in that small little way. But that’s what he chose to do.
And was we reflect upon that reality of God’s humility today, I’d ask us to spend a moment thinking about our first reading. Think about the person of St. Michael, who is maybe the most profound example of humility outside of God himself. The name Michael means “Who is like God.” As in nobody is like God. Only God is like God. St. Michael is probably blessed with incredible gifts and incredible talents but the reason he is filled with such greatness and the reason Michael is the greatest of the archangels is simply because he is humble. He allows himself to be emptied, and what fills him up is the grace of God, the glory of God.
St. Michael is the most profoundly like God, which is why he cast out the evil one. Maybe the only being created greater than him was Lucifer, and Lucifer had greater abilities, but Michael himself cast him out because the Evil One can have no power apart from goodness Himself, God Himself. That is humility. And St. Michael reminds us of that in our first reading of the humility we must all possess from the Father in heaven. “It is when I am weak that I am most strong, because it is God’s grace that fills me up.”
Humility is what Christ teaches us. Humility is us recognizing our littleness, our smallness, so that God fills us up with his splendor and his glory.
Humility is perhaps the greatest gift that Father Ron Dodd possessed and one of the greatest things he shared with me in my time with him.
Father Ron shared with me story after story after story of his time in Vietnam. Tons of stories. In these last years, he wouldn’t remember a lot of the things from the present day, but he would always be able to remember his stories about Vietnam. I always asked him to share those with me because I knew he would always recall those. He always emphasized it was God who kept him safe. And that God had a purpose for him. It was never about him. It was always about God, about God’s glory, and how God had a plan for him from even that time way back during the Vietnam War. I never knew that he received the Purple Heart or the Bronze Star until I read it in his obituary. He never shared that with me, but he shared story after story because it wasn’t about him. It was about his humility and about God’s grace working in him.
When I was sent to him as a transitional deacon, having just been ordained a deacon for a couple of weeks, I went to Metamora to be with him. I understood he was in the early process of entering into dementia. He was so humble about it, because that’s probably the hardest time through it is when you know you are starting to slip just a little bit.
As I stood there as a simple, transitional deacon, scared to be standing at the altar, he was so good to me. He was so humble with me. He would sometimes lose his spot in the missal and he would look at me with humility to help him find his spot. I would simply turn the page for him and get him to the spot he needed to be. And I think about myself if some young buck, a new transitional deacon tried to do that, I’d be like “Who are you? What are you doing here?” But him in his humility was able to accept that and be OK with that knowing it was starting to happen.
Jesus taught Father Dodd how to be humble and Jesus used Father Dodd to help me and many others see what humility should look like.
NUMBER 2. LOVE.
Jesus teaches us what love is by coming to us while we were still sinners. He could have been angry but chose to love nonetheless. He comes into our world to show us not to be served, but to serve. And he does that by being on the cross for you and I. When he has nothing left to give, he gives over everything. I love that image — the last words of Christ — how when his body is on the cross and he has nothing left in this world to give, the only thing he can hand over to the Father, the only thing he has left to give, he says “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” Handing everything over. That is true love. That is how you and I are supposed to love. To give of everything. Emptying ourselves as Christ emptied himself.
Father Ron sought to love in profound ways in his life as well. Just like in the second reading, which talks about how the Father’s love is so great that he made us like his children. I have a dear uncle of mine. He’s kind of the clown of the family. He always says this line: “It’s OK. I can act this way because Jesus promises to the childish that they shall enter the city of God.” I always tell him, Jesus doesn’t say that to the childish, he says it to the childlike.
We are called to be childlike. To love like Jesus Christ loved. To love and give of ourselves until there’s nothing left. We are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. The image of love itself.
Father Ron sought to do that throughout his life. He sought to love his wife as deeply as he possibly could. He sought to love his family that she brought into his life as best as he possibly could. He sought to love his country as best as he possibly could. But most importantly he sought to love God with everything as a priest of Jesus Christ, giving himself completely to him as best as he could in this human condition.
I was blessed to learn this from him as well. Father Ron was with me to encourage me at my very first funeral homily as a deacon. I was scared out of my mind. He just kept encouraging me, telling me “You’re going to be fine. You’ll be able to do this.” My very first funeral homily was next to that man right there, preaching at St. Mary’s in Metamora as a transitional deacon. What a gift it was that he stood next to me.
On that day I talked about self-giving love, agape love, giving completely of yourself as the man I spoke about that day seemed to, but this man tried to do that to the best of his ability too. As I am given the great honor and privilege of preaching and asking the Lord to welcome him into his eternal rest, I remember that Father Dodd stood with me at the first time I did this very thing — preaching at a funeral. He gave me that great gift of comfort. I pray that he prays for you and me at this very time today — for the gift of encouragement.
The second thing I’ll never forget when it comes to love and Father Ron is that every time I would go with him to anoint people in the hospital or to be with people being anointed nearing the end of their lives, I would be amazed by what he would do. There’s a moment in the anointing when the priest takes his hands and asks the Holy Spirit to come down on the individual that’s being anointed. And Father Ron Dodd would stand there for anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds just asking the Holy Spirit to be poured down on this person in silence and prayer. You could see his prayer intimately entering into that moment. And that is the greatest gift that I take into my priesthood from him. That type of love. Every time I try to do the same thing in the anointing to the sick – to ask the Holy Spirit to profoundly come down on this person as they are about ready, God willing, to enter into eternal life.
That is love. Jesus taught Father Dodd how to love. And Jesus used Father Dodd to help me and many others to see what love should look like in this world.
THE THIRD THING: LONG-SUFFERING
Jesus teaches us what it means to suffer long. That suffering brings about great redemption. There is no Easter without Good Friday, as Fulton Sheen tells us. Jesus’ whole life shows that we must enter into suffering, and not avoid it, and if we do we will experience the resurrection in the small things and the large things.
Our Gospel reminds us of that. Martha had been saddened by the loss of her brother Lazarus for four days. She was deep in suffering. And yet Jesus comes and he shares something that all of us need to know today. He says to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.”
But he doesn’t promise a cross-less life. Our sufferings can be great, but if we enter into them with Jesus Christ, we will overcome them and be raised.
Father Dodd sought to suffer well his whole life. In my first year at Pontiac, he stayed with us for a few months. He loved to concelebrate the Mass with me. He was always nervous to do it, afraid he wouldn’t remember all the parts. I said “It’s going to be OK. Just stand with me and be there with me. ” As he was for me at the beginning of my transitional diaconate. I kept encouraging him, “You can do it. I’ll show you where you need to be.”
I asked if he would like to come to Odell to celebrate the Easter Triduum with me. The most important liturgies in the entire church year. He was overwhelmed, but he said “I will.” He knew it would be full of suffering. He knew it would be physically, emotionally, and spiritually grueling for him at that point. He came up early with me to each liturgy and stayed till the end. We literally walked through the whole process of those three days together — entering into Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. The last time he celebrated the Easter Triduum before all the people I know it was a challenge for him, but he did it with joy. With immense joy.
The last thing I remember doing with him — before I knew he was less able to grasp everything that was going on — was the offering of the Mass and the most important liturgies of the church year and the Holy Triduum. Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.
Our prayer today is that this good man and this holy priest might pass from suffering and death into the gift of the resurrection. Because Jesus came to show us three things most profoundly: Humility, love, and long suffering. Father Ron lived to his best possible ability those three things. May he receive his eternal reward.
Jesus teach us to be humble.
Jesus teach us to love.
Jesus teach us how to suffer. Amen.