Full transcript of homily at funeral Mass for Father Robert Spilman

Father Robert Spilman

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the transcript of the homily given at the funeral Mass for Father Robert Spilman, a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria who died on Christmas Day at the age of 74. The funeral was Dec. 29, 2021, at The Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Spring Valley and is archived for vieweing here. The homilist was Father Pat DeMeulemeester.

I always begin my homily with a poem or a story. And I particularly like this poem, because it explains two of the three reasons that we gather at a funeral. It is titled, “He is Gone.”

“You could shed tears because he is gone / Or you could smile because he has lived / You can close your eyes and pray that he’ll come back / Or you could open your eyes and see all he’s left / Your heart could be empty because you can’t see him / Or you can be full of the love you shared. / You could turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday / Or you could be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday / You could remember him and only that he’s gone / Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on / You can cry, close your mind, be empty and turn your back / Or you can do what he’d want – smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”

One of the most obvious reasons that we gather at a funeral is to say goodbye — to a brother, to an uncle, a family member, a pastor, a brother priest, a friend. Death seems so final at times. And yet we know from our faith that death is but a continuation.

In today’s first reading from the book of Wisdom, it says “They seemed to the foolish to be dead. Their going forth from us utter destruction. But they are at peace.”

I was thinking about peace this morning. Some people think that peace is the absence of conflict. But there is only one source of peace, and that is God. So to be one with God is our peace. And so truly we can say that they are at peace.

So every time we think of a memory of Father Bob, we can shed a tear — that’s normal, because he’s no longer with us in the same way. But the very next line says “Or you can smile because he has lived.” And so funerals are opportunities to celebrate a person’s life, to celebrate all those things that were important to Father Bob.

He grew up in Knoxville, in Galesburg. He was in the Air Force for four years during the Vietnam War. He didn’t see any combat. He was in Okinawa. He also then went into the banking industry. But there was that time in his life when he felt called by God to join the seminary. And so he applied here to Peoria, and he was accepted, and they sent him to Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Connecticut. And that’s how I got to know him. It was my fourth year there, and it was his first year there. Jokingly, we called him “Grandpa.” I remember my Mom once visiting and I said “Mom, meet Dad. Dad, meet Mom.”

One day he said to me, “Pat, you’ve got a car.” I said “Yes, I do.” He sold his car before he went into the seminary. And he says, “You live in the Quad Cities, don’t you?” I said “Yes.” And he goes “I live in Knoxville. Knoxville is on the way to the Quad Cities. How about if I take a ride with you?”

That started our friendship, and that friendship lasted for 30 years.

He was there for one year at Holy Apostles, and then he went to Mount St. Mary’s. And I as well. I was ordained in 1995, and Father Bob was ordained a deacon in 1995 and he actually became my deacon for my Mass of Thanksgiving in Belgium. I know that some of Father Bob’s family went along to Belgium. It was a very nice time.

He was ordained in 1996. We know his assignments – he was assistant in Champaign, and then he went to Colfax and Strawn, then he went to Earlville and then he kind of took root here in Spring Valley. So he had varied assignments with St. Anthony’s. He was also administrator of St. Mary’s in Peru at one time. He was at St. Gertrude’s in Seatonville. And eventually he did get Immaculate Conception and Sts. Peter and Paul. And he was the founding pastor when the parishes came together as one and the parish became The Nativity of Our Lord.

I never see things as coincidences. I see that Father Bob died on Christmas Day. He loved Christmas and was the founding pastor here.

In 2018 he was granted senior status and I invited him to live in Granville. We had a house that just opened up because we had been using it for CCD, and now our new hall was built. He came and lived there and he had his autonomy and he helped me out by celebrating a couple of Masses a week. And I could keep an eye on him, too. We both needed to keep an eye on each other.

There were other things he liked. He loved antiques. I cannot tell you how many antique stores I have been to in my life. And I have zero tolerance for antiques. But I began to know what Father Bob liked.

We had a common passion in traveling. We traveled all across the globe together. Many countries. He and I traveled to six out of the seven continents. You may be thinking “Oh, so you probably didn’t get to Antarctica.” No we went to Antarctica. He didn’t go to Asia. We were really good traveling partners with each other.

Now I started writing this homily more than five years ago after Father Bob’s accident — I was his POA — when the doctors were saying he had less than a 10 percent chance to live. And that if he did live, he would be in an institution. I still remember coming here for a prayer service, and there were so many people praying for Father Bob. God heard our prayers, and he brought Father Bob back to us. He ended up receiving almost six years. That was a gift.

Father Bob in many ways was the same Father Bob. He could joke around. But there was also a Father Bob that had changed. He used to be very sociable, he used to be very outgoing, and he started to draw a little bit more into himself. I talked to him about this and I said, “Why are you doing this?” I noticed that he used different words. So sometimes you didn’t know exactly what he was talking about. You kind of had to take the conversation in context. I can’t tell you how many times we were in restaurants and he ordered something and I would say, “Are you sure you ordered this?” “Well, no!” “Oh, OK. What do you really want?”

He became very self-conscious about this. And I know there are some people who said that Father Bob just kind of dropped off. It wasn’t anything personal. It was the new Father Bob. The accident did more damage than what we thought it originally did. As the years went on, it became more and more verifiable that he was forgetting more and more things.

Every time that we think of a memory, we can smile because he has lived. I know there are many memories in my life that will make me smile because he was my friend.

So now on to the third reason we gather at a funeral, not covered by the poem. But it is the most important. We gather in gratitude. That might seem a bit strange at a funeral. What do we have to be grateful for? We’re grateful to God. We’re grateful, first of all, for the gift of life. We thank God for the gift of Father Robert Spilman. Each and every single one of us is a gift from God. Imagine our world if we could view each person as God’s gift.

We also thank God for his love. There are some people who say, “I don’t know if God loves me.” And I say to them, “If you’re here, if you exist, it means that God loves you!” God loves us into existence. And he keeps us in existence. That’s how much he loves us.

In the beginning of time, there was nothing but God. One God, three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God was totally content in himself, he didn’t need anything beyond himself. And yet he wanted to share his life and his love. So he started to create. He created the angels first. Pure spiritual beings, neither male nor female. Then he created the material world. And the apex of that material world creation is us! God created the world and he said “It’s good!” He created us and he said, “It’s very good!”

Why? Because we were created in God’s image and likeness.

So now, through this, we now can answer the questions “Who are we?” and “Where do we hope to go?” We were created to be in union with God, sharing his life and his love. Giving him all honor and glory. But then sin entered the world.

Our relationship with the Father was severed. If we could just imagine a chasm opened up between heaven and earth that could not be crossed. God could have kicked us to the curb and said “I’m starting over.” But he loved us too much. And he put a plan into motion. It took thousands of years. But it culminated – yes, at the Annunciation — but also at what we just celebrated, the Solemnity of Christmas, when Jesus Christ became one of us in all things but sin. And then at the appointed time, he died for us. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, our relationship with our Father was re-established. The chasm that was between heaven and earth now had a bridge. The cross of Jesus Christ.

That’s how much he loves us. He destroyed the last enemy, the enemy of death. That’s why St. Paul could say, “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh death, where is they victory?”

Today’s Gospel is one of my favorite. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back to you and take you to myself, so that where I am, you also may be.”

The third reason to be grateful to Jesus is for his priesthood. Jesus promised, before ascending to the Father in heaven, “I will be with you until the end of time.” He is with us through his church. He is with us through his Word. He is with us through the sacraments. But he is also with us through the priesthood.

It’s not Father Bob’s priesthood, it’s not my priesthood, it’s Jesus’ priesthood. And at ordination, we give the gift of ourselves to God, to use as he wills to continue his priestly ministry. So just think about that. How many people did Father Bob touch in his 25 years of priesthood? From birth to death, from baptism to the anointing of the sick? How many people did he bring Jesus to through his priesthood? How many times has he offered the sacrifice of the New Covenant — where we don’t have to wait until heaven to be joined to God, to be united to God, and through that union to each other?

We can already experience heaven when we receive Jesus Christ — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity — and through our union with Christ, we are united with each other. It truly is a communion.

I’d like to end with a prayer I found online. “For a Deceased Priest.”

“Oh God, you did raise thy servant, Father Robert Spilman, to the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ according to the Order of Melchizedek. Giving him the sublime power to offer the Eternal Sacrifice. To bring the Body and Blood of thy son, Jesus Christ, down upon this altar. To absolve the sins of men in your Holy Name. We beseech you to reward his faithfulness and to forget his faults, admitting him speedily into your holy presence, there to enjoy forever the recompense of his labors. This we ask, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

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