Seeing the Light — Funeral for Allen Prince, 74

Allen grew up on a farm less than a mile down the road from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, where he was a lifelong parishioner. Today his body will be buried in that earth to await the Resurrection, and we are now gathered here [at St. Paul’s Church] to pray for his soul. No brief funeral homily can capture the fullness of a Christian life, but Allen’s sons told me a number of interesting anecdotes about his life.

They spoke of his intense work ethic. A farmer for almost 20 years and a semi-truck driver for 30, Allen never retired. Even into his 70’s he was still working hard in his shed, particularly with his welder, joining pieces to one another. Reportedly, he could fix just about anything, repairing what was broken and building things new. Allen spent many hours a week driving trailer loads back and forth across the country. That gave him lots of opportunity to call up people on his cellphone and enjoy their conversation. He also had plenty of time to listen to his musical playlist. Good friends and good songs are great company on the road.

I have also heard that Allen may have once come back from the dead. When one of his lower internal organs burst he became septic, was hospitalized, and was put into a medically-induced coma. That’s when Allen had a surreal experience in which he believed he had died and saw something of a vision involving (according to one son’s recollection) him driving truck out West. Allen was so happy there that when he regained consciousness in the hospital again he was upset to be back because he so much liked where he had been. Though he did not hasten death (he was dreaming to live to be 120) I’m informed that for the rest of his life, as a result of this experience, Allen was no longer afraid of dying. He believed he would be going to a good place.

A homily cannot capture a complete Christian life, but aspects of a Christian’s life will reflect the life and person of Jesus Christ. Jesus came among us not as a pampered prince but as a hardworking laborer, a carpenter or craftsman. As a focused perfectionist, Jesus repairs what was broken and builds things new, welding heavenly things to things of earth, joining God and peoples together as one. Jesus wasn’t eager to suffer and die, but he did not fear what would come after his death. Jesus had seen and experienced that place of joyful peace before, and believed that he would be raised again.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus almost always doing one of two things: either talking with other people or praying to his heavenly Father in solitude. We see him seeking close friendship with everyone while maintaining an intimate relationship with God. Jesus calls us and he wants us to check-in with him daily, using the relationship and intimacy-building communication device called prayer. He wants us to reach out to him every day on our long drive, our long-haul, to Heaven. Jesus’ Beatitudes (“blessed are the merciful, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn…”) describe the Christian disciples as they become more and more like Christ himself. Wherever we are now, the Lord wants us to call him to be our traveling companion; through life, through death, and into life beyond.

Amongst Allen’s driving music playlist, one of his apparently favorite songs shows up seven times performed by different bands or artists, a song famously written and sung by Hank Williams, Sr.: “I Saw The Light.” The words of this song must have personally spoken to Allen:

I wandered so aimless life filed with sin
I wouldn’t let my dear savior in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord I saw the light

Just like a blind man I wandered along
Worries and fears I claimed for my own
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

I was a fool to wander and stray
Straight is the gate and narrow’s the way
Now I have traded the wrong for the right
Praise the Lord I saw the light

I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

Let us all turn toward Jesus Christ, the Light from Light, the light of the world, our world’s only hope, to pray that the song and longing of Allen’s heart may be everlastingly fulfilled for him and for us all.

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