Mass of Christian Burial
Paul Daniel Coakley
24 January 2015
First, on behalf of Fr. Jonah, Fr. Justin, and Fr. Jose – my deepest and most sincere condolences and prayers go out to Paul’s lovely wife Ann, to their children: Christian, Damien, and Caeli Grace; to Ann’s parents David and Susan; to Paul’s parents Joe and Kathy; to his siblings: Christiana, David, John, Matt, Daniel, Katie, and Sarah; to the Brothers of the Eternal Song and to Paul’s extended family and friends. Our prayers are surely with you during this most difficult time.
It is hard to believe that we are here today. It seems like at any moment we should be waking up from this terrible nightmare. I’m still in a bit of a state of shock over it. I’m honored to have been asked to deliver the homily today but I’m really not the right person for this. Yet, who could speak so adequately about such a great person? I tried thinking of words to describe him… I came up with a few: superman, iron man, crazy man! It is descriptions such as these that describe his outlook on life – live it! Don’t be afraid to live. In the midst of all the crazy things he did that would make any mother gasp – Paul taught us never to be afraid to live. Like the time on Sonlife – spring break 2001 – when Paul scaled a palm tree… a palm tree! Then, some of us – me – tried unsuccessfully to do the same! That was also the trip where Paul got a bunch of us to sing happy birthday to Laura Stallings at a BK, including some of their staff. Laura got a free whopper and BK crown… oh, and it wasn’t her birthday! But it was fun! Then there was the time he scaled the 50 ft steel cross on campus… the road trips the adventures… the time he hung off a cliff over Summersville Lake… he was fun! I’ll also forever know the lyrics to George Thorogood’s “Ride on Josephine”, Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” and of course…. “Camper” – all thanks to Paul. He was fun. He was Mr. Outdoorsman. And there are countless stories of him jumping off train bridges, scaling cliffs and jumping off of those too – he turned 3 day weekends into adventures. On spring break 2003, a few of us drove 16 hours from Steubenville to the Gulf Shores to spend the week with Paul. It was Paul who taught a few of us how to properly kayak. He was fun and when you were with him you had fun and you truly felt important to him – you felt loved.
But none of this truly describes his character. When Christiana called me and said that Ann would like me to give the homily, she asked me to pick the Gospel reading. Immediately I thought of the Beatitudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel. I asked Christiana: “what do you think?” She replied: “perfect, perfect for Paul.” The Beatitudes to me, and to all of us who know him well, could say truly that Paul was a man of beatitude. The word itself means “blessed” – as we heard in the gospel or as St. Luke puts it: “happy.” Either way, you get Paul. Because the Beatitudes describe how the Christian life is supposed to be lived. That which Jesus teaches His disciples here, and us as well, is that while the 10 Commandments serve as guidelines for the external nature of faithfulness, the Beatitudes are the internalization of those commandments. Thus, no longer is outward observance – mere obedience – adequate for faithfulness. If one is to truly live, the faith has to be internal – it has to sink into the depths of one’s heart, mind, and soul. In other words, to be truly blessed by God, to be truly happy, one must love from the heart. Faithfulness must spring from the very depths of a person’s being. In this way, outward observance is transformed and love becomes a person’s true identity.
This, I believe, better describes the character of Paul Coakley. Love. Paul wasn’t great because he did crazy things. He wasn’t great because he drove the coolest truck ever. He wasn’t great because he drove across country – several times… and with his wife…. In a big rig! While all of that was part of his character it is not what made him great. Paul was great because he loved. And he loved big. He did everything big… he gave 100% - gave his all – especially when it came to love. This is the essence of beatitude – selflessness, self-giving, self-donation… sacrifice. All of which is at the heart of what it means to love. This is what Our Lord taught His disciples, it is what He teaches us now. If we wish for beatitude we must be willing to sacrifice because that is love. Paul understood that, he knew it, and the pages of the book of his life were written after the likeness of the Savior because He loved. Paul was blessed because he loved God. He was blessed because he loved others. He was the most non-judgmental person I have ever known. He never spoke an unkind word – he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Paul surely had his own faults – we all do – but he truly loved with whole of his being.
I’m convinced that because of his deep love for God, Paul seized every moment of every day. This is how he lived – he really lived. And it is how he teaches us to live – to make each day an adventure and not to fear. If we love God the way he does, we have nothing to fear – not pain, not suffering, not even death. The sadness, of course, is not having him here with us. But don’t we, as Christians, live our faith for this moment? The moment when God calls us home – to our true home. On the day of his birth, God whispered his name… Now on his birthday into eternity, God calls loudly for him again. And I’m sure that when he arrived at the gates of heaven, he greeted all present there with a big bright smile and a hearty: “hi guys!”
Now, I can’t say for sure Paul is a saint. But we know where he has gone. And we know that right now he is in the loving embrace of our merciful God. And I know for sure that he was confident in the reward of eternal life. This is what I believe made him so joyful… “rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.” The quote on Paul’s prayer card sums it up quite nicely. From Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: “You ask me whether I am in good spirits. How could I not be so? As long as faith gives me strength, I will always be joyful.”
Paul, I’m sure, would not be too happy with me going on about him. He was a humble man. He would not want us to feel that we lost him – for the truth is, we know where is going and we know the way there too. His death is not a loss and it is not a defeat. It is a victory – God’s victory and heaven’s gain. We may ask ourselves those burdensome and difficult questions like: why? We may comment on the fact that he was taken way too soon. We may be angry that God seemingly did not hear our prayers. But none of that will help ease our sadness. It will only further plunge us into greater pain and sorrow. On that note… sometimes people give priests weird things that I’m not too sure what to do with. Well, just yesterday morning I was having coffee after Mass and a gentleman, from a parish I have never been to, handed me a piece of paper and said: “this is for you Father, pass it on.” The paper read this:
“Once a man was asked, what did you gain by praying regularly to God? The man replied, nothing… but let me tell you what I lost: anger, ego, greed, depression, insecurity, and fear of death. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is not in gaining but in losing, which ultimately is the gain.”
So what is the gain here? We can all chose to live like Paul… we have been saying it: #livelikepaul. This ultimately means to live like Christ. Paul surely sets the bar pretty high, showing us how a Christian is supposed to live and how one is supposed to die – with arms outstretched in the embrace of the Father.
Wherever you may be at spiritually – high, low, middle of the road – let us all open up the arms of our hearts and accept the challenge to live in greater faith, with a confident hope for eternal life, and with a steadfast, unwavering love – a love that knows no fear, that embraces difficulty, a sacrificial love that is joyful in the Lord and with a love that awaits the reward of eternal life. There, in that reward of a life lived in a love for God, do we pray to meet our brother again. In this sense, we not only say live like Paul… but LOVE like Paul. This is our hope. This is our gain. It is what will make us blessed – happy and joyful in our faithfulness and love for God and neighbor.
Well done, Paul. You have taught us well. You have taught us how to live the blessed life – the good life. May you continue to inspire us and countless others. May your example continue to teach us to be blessed, to love with our whole being. And now, may you enter into that eternal state of beatitude.
Mass of Christian Burial