Preserved for Life — Funeral for Mark Schoonover, 65

Mark is loved and mourned by many in our community and in this parish. That’s seen in the many people here today. And we will miss him. Dying at age 65, Mark is one of the youngest people I have had a funeral for in my time here at St. Paul’s. And Mark will also be the closest parishioner, the closest friend, that I have buried here thus far. I often say that no mere homily can capture the fullness of the mystery of a Christian life well-lived. But I offer this brief reflection to reveal a truth about Mark’s life and the mystery of Jesus working in it. Mark’s family told me a number of great stories about his life that I hadn’t heard before, and I noticed a theme. Mark has faced death several times before.

In 1969, his family was driving in a car together when a drunk driver ran through a stop sign in front of them. His father, Tom, saw the crash coming and warned everyone to brace. There were no car seats, no seat belts in the car. Mark, just 15 years old, reached over and grabbed his 11-month-old sister, Wendy. He suffered a broken rib, broken collarbone, 30 stitches and a concussion, but he saved his sister’s life.

Later, as an A-6 Intruder Bombardier-Navigator in the Navy, I suspect there were a number anxious brushes with death he might not have ever mentioned. Flying hundreds of miles-per-hour in a complex military machine, in all sorts of weather, catapulting-off and landing upon aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean surely has its dicey, dangerous moments.

I’m told that one time, on the ground near his airbase in Washington State, Mark went sheep hunting alone in the mountains. He got his big sheep, and the family still has the picture of it, but he realized he would not make it out of the wilderness by nightfall. Something told him, to sit, to stay there. He sensed he should just stay there. So Mark sat vigil with the sheep. In the morning, when the sun rose and brought more light to his situation, he realized that he had been sitting just feet from the edge of the mountain. If he had tried to walk by himself in the darkness of that night, he may well have gone over the edge.

When Mark was diagnosed with brain cancer, there was great concern that he would die then. He told Traci, “God will get us through this.” And they were granted a gracious respite. Mark’s health recovered almost fully-back to normal for some blessed, precious months. However, his cancer treatments did a number on his liver, the organ in the body charged with expelling toxins. I was recently able to see Mark with Traci and Abby in the hospital. I was honored to anoint him and give him the Apostolic Pardon. Soon after, when his death was imminent, they brought him home, to the cabin on the lake up north. On the morning he died, Traci tells me that they watched the sun rise over the lake together. That is a beautiful death.

Sometimes older people in nursing homes, up in years and burdened with weakness and pains, ask me, not without faith but actually with a great deal of faith, “Why am I still here?” Their children are grown, most of their friends have passed away, they have grown tired of life and they wonder why the Lord has not taken them already. I always tell them the same thing, “If you are still alive on this earth, either God is doing something in you, or through you, or both.

Why did God preserve Mark throughout his years up till now? Because the Lord was working in him, and through him, both. Did God fail Mark in this last illness? Did God the Father fail his Son on the Cross? No. He who pleased God was loved, glorified through his passion, and brought to God by God himself.

The Book of Wisdom says of the just man who dies young:
Having become perfect in a short while,
he reached the fullness of a long career;
for his soul was pleasing to the Lord,
therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.

And St. Paul reminds us:
If we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.

A day like this is challenging, and it is sad. Pray for Mark, but do not fear for him. You know of his life and of his faith in Christ. Talk to him. I ask him to pray for me. We are not abandoned, not without the helping graces we need. So cooperate with that grace, that grace of God working in you and through you, so that one day all of us may be reunited in Christ, rejoicing with Mark, forever.

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