Funeral homily: Fr. Mai-Chi-Thanh knew the joy in this life was but a foretaste

Father Joseph Mai-Chi-Thanh

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is a transcript of the homily given by Father Joel Phelps at the July 29 funeral Mass at St. Matthew Church in Champaign for Father Joseph Mai-Chi-Thanh, pastor emeritus of St. Mary Parish in Pesotum. Father Mai-Chi-Thanh, 92, died in Champaign on July 25. His obituary is found here. 

It’s a great honor to preach this homily. I ask your prayers that I may do it well. It’s an honor to enter into this time of prayer. I thank Bishop Lou Tylka for leading us into this prayer of Christ. Msgr. Philip Halfacre, our vicar general, my brother priests, all the faithful and friends — those here and those joining us through the livestream.

It’s been an honor in all the aspects that I’ve gotten to know Father Joseph. In all my interactions with him, there was always something that he imparted — some wisdom, something he gave. When he spoke, he generally had a large smile on his face as he remembered with great joy different phases of his life.

  • His childhood and early priesthood in Vietnam, his joy as parochial vicar, working as principal of a high school, the friends that he stayed connected with, parishioners and students, throughout the whole of his life
  • His time in Europe
  • His work translating spiritual books in French and Spanish for the Vietnamese people and culture, to be able to share those spiritual treasures with them
  • His time in the United States. He would always speak very warmly of his first visit with the Bishop of Peoria. When he arrived, Bishop Edward O’Rourke met him at the airport and bought him lunch personally, which really impressed him.

He came to love Central Illinois as well. He loved the four seasons, the change of weather, he loved his time in his parishes, especially Pesotum, where he was pastor emeritus. The cornfields. His time at home, the Vietnamese community and all those friends who helped him through his time there. His time with his brother priests and the lunches and different things.

PREPARATION FOR SOMETHING GREATER

But in the heart of all these things, this great gratitude that filled his stories and his memories, was that awareness that all of this was a preparation of something greater. That the good things of this world are a foretaste of the world to come.

These readings were chosen by Father Joseph a number of years ago. They all look forward to that fulfillment of the good things of this world. Isaiah, speaking of the great feast on the mountain; the Book of Revelation, that new heaven and that new earth; and as the link between them, this Gospel, from the Bread of Life discourse — that the Eucharist served as that link between the good things of this world and the next.

The celebration of Mass was something that always was central in Father Joseph’s life. He celebrated it at home until he wasn’t able to physically celebrate anymore and awaited that eternal celebration in heaven. The Eucharist for him, you could see through his whole life, was central. Why was he a priest? Why did he enter into this life, this encounter with Christ? That great faith he had, in Christ and the community of the saints, especially his strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary — his birthday just the day after the Feast of the Assumption.

He spoke often of the many graces in prayer he had through his devotion to Mary, and the way that the Lord took care of him. That he saw in this, again, the heart of this life, and the great grace that we share in the priesthood of being a minister with Christ in the celebration of this sacrament.

CONFIDENCE AS HE FACED SUFFERING

Even in this great trust and care, he had a confidence as he faced suffering. One of the members of the family he stayed close with from his time in Vietnam shared a conversation as Father Joseph’s eyesight was failing and he was going through an eye procedure. She shared that he had spoken of the way that he trusted the Lord prepared him even in this life through suffering — that his suffering would be in this life, that he could enter right away to the fullness of life in heaven.

So we ask the Lord for that same awareness — that awareness of the good things of this world, but the way they are in fact that foretaste of the world to come. The special way that the Eucharist, the true presence of Christ in the Bread of Life here, is that link for us and that ultimate preparation. That the life we’re prepared for is one that transcends that “web that’s woven over the nations” that Isaiah speaks of. That the life we’re prepared for is one that transcends this created world, but in fact encounters that fulfillment and that fullness of life with God in heaven.

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