Homily: Father Harold Datzman has taken his place ‘among the heroes of the faith’
EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the full text of the homily given by Abbot Michael Calhoun, OSB, at the funeral Mass for Father Harold Datzman, OSB, who died June 24, 2023.
On behalf of all at St. Bede I want to extend our condolences to Father Harold’s family, especially his sisters who are here with us.
Beverly, Barbara, Rosemary, and Ellen I want you to think a bit about all the people that you saw last night and this morning at the visitation. Now, I would like all of you, especially his sisters, to briefly look around at the people in the church. The people you saw last night and the ones you see this morning are a small fraction of those impacted by your brother and our confrere, Father Harold. All the people are a sign of several things: of how much Father Harold was loved by so many; of how many people he reached and helped and fed and healed as a priest of Jesus Christ in his service; it’s a sign of how much we all want to be with you in this time of loss; and it’s a sign of how much we want to be close to Jesus together as we say goodbye to Father Harold and surrender him to the Father, who is kind and merciful, and who, as we heard in the Gospel, has prepared a place for Father Harold and everyone in the People of God.
So, at the outset, I want to express our sorrows and our pledge of love and prayer for you, Father Harold’s family. You have suddenly and mysteriously received a fuller share of the cross. But, we also want to express our gratitude to you, too. Because it was consistently clear how deeply Father Harold was rooted in your family life.
JESUS DEFEATED DEATH
Words can often fail on a day like this. Even though death may come after a long season of illness, even though there may be a sense of death’s closeness, death always catches us off guard, always comes as a surprise. Death remains that part of the human story that resists our attempts to control, our attempts to understand. When we have to describe its meaning, its effects — we are left speaking in partial phrases and incomplete thoughts. All of our philosophies, theologies, spiritualities, feelings warm and cold only get us so far and then each of us has to confront the fact that we don’t really know how to feel or what to think. Death makes us feel small and inarticulate, powerless and fragile. For all of our sense of grandeur, death reminds us that at the end of the day we are made of dust, and to dust we shall all return.
Let’s mourn together today; let’s mourn together and then remember together the rest of the story: Our friend has gone to be with Christ and now he’s going to be praying for us to follow.
Death is real. And that is why Christians defeat death. This is why the focal point of our church is the image of Jesus Christ on the Cross. We hold up as the symbol of our entire faith and religion a cross, a thing that produces death. But on that cross hangs the one through whom all things were made, the Lord of life.
When Jesus was crucified, He truly died. He did not avoid it, he did not pretend at it. He gave Himself to death and when death took Him, death began to die. Christ stripped death of its final say in human life.
While death had swallowed up all who came before Him, Jesus was too much for death, He was bigger than death. So death was swallowed up by life. The instrument of death became the symbol of life. Jesus rose from the grave in the Resurrection and gave this power of defeating death to all who would put their confidence in Him. This is the gospel and the heart of Christianity: that death the unstoppable, death the incomprehensible has been brought low and made to submit to Jesus. Jesus taught us how to think about and how finally to understand the meaning of death. Jesus made our experience of death a part of his own life because He loves us; because He loves us He now makes His life to be our life.
GIVING LOVE, LIFE
Jesus’ story of defeating death was and is our story today. As a faithful Christian to the end, our friend Father Harold has entered into victory with all the saints. He and Jesus shared in the fight with death, and now they share in the peace that follows. Father Harold’s race is run and now awaiting him is the crown of glory. He has taken his place among the heroes of faith now to cheer us on and to pray for us that we also might follow and finish well. On a day with so much uncertainty surrounding it, we can have good hope and confidence that this triumph is the truth of his life, because Father Harold spent his life preparing to follow Jesus in his death.
It’s been said that where love is given, life is given, and Father Harold gave his life and love to many over the course of decades. With each person he loved, he practiced the giving away of himself. Father Harold had many opportunities to give himself in love in serious and humorous ways: by being a compassionate disciplinarian for the boarding students in his care, by his long years in the classroom at (St. Bede) Academy, by offering his skills on the St. Bede stage with his rendition of “Rubber Duckie,” by offering his skills as a barber to our boarding students who rewarded him with the nickname of Chopper, by spending Sunday afternoons with a young novice (me) who thought he could use some more Latin study, by being a faithful priest at his parish assignments offering the sacraments and counseling to the faithful, to name just a few.
So when death came, Father Harold was ready to give his life again. When Jesus came for him at the end, he gave his life to Him. And all who give their lives to Christ defeat death never to fight it again. Death has become for them the path to life.
And so our dear friend and brother is with Christ now. And because he is with Christ he is with us through Christ. As Christians we confess the communion of saints, the fact that all those in Christ are one in an inseparable family over which death has no ultimate power.
MOURNING WITH HOPE
So today as we join in Communion, we will unite with Christ, in whom and through whom we will meet again. We will lift up our hearts to the Lord to enter in part into the Kingdom of the victorious faithful where all the saints have gone to their places.
This morning is bittersweet for us because we must go back to the fight. We must go back to the struggle and constant practice of giving our love and life in the small and ordinary opportunities for kindness and patience that arise every day. We must go back to lives in which there is a fresh and painful absence. We must go back to knowing that we too, one day, will have to die.
In this there is suffering, and for that suffering it is OK to mourn. Let’s mourn together today; let’s mourn together and then remember together the rest of the story: Our friend has gone to be with Christ and now he’s going to be praying for us to follow.
So let’s do what he would do: give our lives to Christ in the Eucharist, and then go out and give our lives in the thousand acts of love ahead of us, which God has prepared for us to walk in, which are nothing less than the road to the Resurrection, to reunion with all the saints, and to life and victory in Christ without end.
Grant O Lord eternal rest to our Father Harold; may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.