Bill Medland Funeral Homily
Funeral Homily for William Medland presented by Rev. Robert Cook
Aug. 23, 2013, 11 a.m.
Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Romans 14:7-12; John 11:17-27
Saint Patrick's Parish, Onalaska, Wis.
Introduction: On behalf of Bishop Callahan and Monsignor Kachel; on behalf of the other priests present, on behalf of the Viterbo University community, on behalf of all your many friends, I wish to extend sympathy to you, Donna, to Bridget, Mark and Jeanne, to his brothers, Dick and Tim, and all his relatives on the death of Bill Medland. We wish to be one with you in your grief; we invite you to be one with us in our hope for everlasting life.
- One spiritual writer (Anthony de Mello) says that "The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is…a story." He's right. Creeds and essays speak to the mind; stories speak to the heart. What we welcome into our hearts is most real and true to us. Well, with his life Bill Medland told a story; it is a story with a beginning - and now with an ending. It is a story of sunshine and some shadows; mostly sunshine. It is a story of faith and virtue and generosity. It is a story with Bill as the central character, God and family and friends as his steady companions. As we tell and retell chapters of his story we shall all be brought more dearly to the Truth, the divine Truth, namely, that we worship a God of love. Bill's story will help us discover that Truth.
Bill's story began in Logansport, Indiana. He was a New Year's baby, born on January 1 of 1944, the third of four boys. It was a happy childhood in a family of loving parents. After he graduated from Logansport High School Bill applied to enter Notre Dame, the school his father and older brother had attended. Access to Notre Dame was not easy in those days (nor is it today). However, with persistence he was accepted and completed a successful bachelor's degree. Then, he moved on to earn several master's degrees and a Ph.D. in history from Ball State University. While attending school Bill had a job for a time at Wilson Meat Packing. His "story" unfolds! One Saturday morning he was attending Mass with his parents when they met the owner of Wilson Meat Packing and his wife, also members of the parish. With them was their daughter, Donna. For some reason it took a whole year before they had their first date. But that date led to others and, as we know, to a very happy marriage. Children came to them through adoption. They love them dearly. Further, over the years Bill and Donna welcomed twenty-five foster children into their home. What a difference, Donna, your mutual love has had in this world; a difference for good in the lives of so many.
- Earlier this week I met for the first time with Donna. I asked her what hobbies Bill enjoyed. Well, I learned that his hobbies were his family and Viterbo and the community. In other words, he didn't have any hobbies. Because he gave himself entirely to his top priorities he had no time for hobbies. Finally, when he retired he was able to read some topics outside of school administration. He enjoyed novels, then, as well as history, his beloved subject. It's clear to see that his hobbies were exactly the same subjects that occupied his life; family, Viterbo, the community. He was dedicated to all three.
This past Monday the La Crosse Tribune provided an outstanding record of Bill's accomplishments at Viterbo. Briefly, they included new buildings, new community relationships, a much-increased endowment, a new record number of students, and Viterbo College became Viterbo University. After retiring from Viterbo Bill spent two very productive years as Development Director at Catholic Charities. On the Catholic Charities blog this week, Deacon Richard Sage, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, called Bill patient, kind, humble, respectful, selfless, forgiving, honest, and committed. It sounds a little like the Boy Scout Law. Bill fostered Servant Leadership at Viterbo and everywhere because he was a servant leader. All of these accomplishments were outstanding chapters in the book, the story that is Bill Medland.
- And yes, there were crosses in his life as well. There were some dark chapters in his story. He suffered the loss of his parents; his brother Tom died at a relatively young age. And, as we all know, Bill suffered from cancer for the past fifteen years. Gradually, his strength ebbed away. Yet, his spirit always remained strong. I was always amazed that his sense of humor remained intact, even in the last days of his journey. Fifteen years ago, when he first got the diagnosis of cancer, he anticipated that he had about one year to live. To the contrary! Even last Friday evening he enjoyed a good dinner before bedtime. Then, when he arose in the early morning he fell, dying before he struck the floor.
It is a comfort to us that Bill's faith never wavered. He understood, I think, that God doesn't send us crosses. He helps us carry our crosses! Next to his bed he kept a bible and books of prayer. He read them frequently. I learned recently that forty years ago Bill made a thirty-day retreat at Manresa in Spain at the Cave of Saint Ignatius. Every Lent since then he has relived that retreat, re-reading its messages, repeating its prayers. So, while there were dark chapters in Bill's story, the glow of faith always gave him direction as the story unfolded. When Rembrandt started a portrait he always began with a black canvas. Then, he added color. The darkness added depth and beauty to the portrait. The fabric of this man's life had dark threads of suffering; but it was woven with beauty, goodness, sunshine and truth made all the more beautiful by his crosses.
Typical of Bill's organizational skills, he selected music and the readings for his funeral. All were well chosen. From Ecclesiastes, "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens…A time to weep, to laugh, to mourn and to dance." Bill's life included these and more. It was a full life. From Romans, "None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master." All his life Bill knew that his Master was the Lord. Like Martha in the Gospel of John, Bill could say, "I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God: he who is to come into the world." Bill's faith was unrelenting.
A final word of comfort. An old Irish verse is engraved on the wall of a Carmelite Monastery in Tallow County, Ireland. Imagine Bill speaking!
Death is nothing at all…
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Whatever we were to each other; that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile; think of me; pray for me.
Let my name be the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort.
Life means all that it ever meant.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before…
Only better, infinitely happier and forever…we will all be one together with Christ.
In fact, Bill's "story" is not ended. Now the chapters unfold into a new and heavenly volume. Dear friends, I suggest that the story of Bill Medland provides us with a short distance to the Truth. The example of his life leads us, in fact, to God, the ultimate Truth! Because of his life we know more about faith, about love, about dedication, about service to others. His life teaches us much about the Loving Truth that is God.
There is a prayer often included in the final rite of funerals. "We give Bill back to you, O Lord, who first gave him to us; and as you did not lose him in the giving, so we do not lose him in the return."
Conclusion: As Bill's faith united him to God's people on earth, so now may God's mercy unite him to the saints and angels in heaven. May he rest in peace!