The following is a full transcript of the homily delivered by Father James Jackson, FSSP, during Officer Eric Talley’s funeral Mass on March 29 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Watch a video of the homily here.
In the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
You would think that the evil which was done in Boulder Monday last would break the heart of God. It did.
Given that many wonder where God was Monday last, we must consider this, and the answer is first, he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. The 1,998th anniversary of that event happens this coming Thursday. And St. John Henry Newman writes about it as clearly as any I know. He said:
“Here then in that most awful hour, knelt the savior of the world, putting off the defenses of his divinity, dismissing his reluctant angels who in myriads were ready at his call and opening his arms, bearing his breast, sinless as he was to the assault of his foe, a foe whose breath was a pestilence and whose embrace was an agony. There he knelt motionless and still, while the vile and horrible fiend clad his spirit in a robe steeped in all that is hateful and heinous, inhuman crime, which clung close around his heart and filled his conscience and found its way to every sense and pore of his mind and spread over him like a moral leprosy Until he almost felt himself to be that which he could never be and which his foe would fain have made him. Are these the hands of the immaculate Lamb of God, once innocent, but now read with ten thousand barbarous deeds of blood? Are these his lips not uttering prayer and praise and holy blessings, but as if defiled with oaths and blasphemies and doctrines of devils or his eyes profaned as they are by all the evil visions and idolatrous fascinations for which men have abandoned their adorable creator and his ears, they ring with sounds of revelry and strife. His heart has frozen with avarice and cruelty and unbelief, and his very memory is laden with every sin that has been committed since the fall. And adversaries such as these gather round the blessed Lord in millions now. They come in troops more numerous than the locust or the Palmer worm or the plagues of hail, flies and frogs which were sent against Pharaoh. Of the living and of the dead and of the as yet unborn, of the lost and the saved, of the people, of strangers, of sinners and saints, all sins are there. They dearest are there. Thy saints and thy chosen are upon the thy three apostles, Peter, James and John, but not as comforters, but as accusers like the friends of Job, sprinkling dust towards heaven and heaping curses on my head. All are there but one. One only is not there, one only for she who had no part in sin, she only could console thee and therefore she is not nigh. She will be near thee on the cross.
“She is separated from thee in the garden. She has been thy companion and thy confidant throughout thy life. She interchanged with the the pure thoughts and holy meditations of 30 years. But her virgin ear may not take in, nor may her immaculate heart conceive what is now envisioned before thee. None was equal to the weight, but God. The mother of God, for all her sanctity, nay, by reason of it, could not have borne even one brood of that innumerable progeny of Satan which now encompasses the about. It is the long history of a world, and God alone can bear the load of it, hopes blighted, vows broken, lights quenched, warnings scorned, opportunities lost, the innocent, betrayed, the young hardened, the penitent relapsing, the just overcome, the aged failing, the false sophistry of misbelief, the willfulness of passion, the obduracy of pride, the tyranny of habit, the canker of remorse, the waisting fever of care, the anguish of shame, the pining of disappointment, the sickness of despair. Such cruel, such pitiable spectacles. Such heartrending, revolting, detestable, maddening scenes. Nay, the haggard faces the convulsed lips, the flushed cheek, the dark brow of the willing slaves of evil, they are all before him now, they are upon him, they are in him, they are with him instead of that ineffable peace which has inhabited his soul since the moment of his conception. They are upon him and they are all but his own. He cries to his father as if he were the criminal, not the victim. His agony takes the form of guilt and compunction. He is doing penance. He is making confession, he is exercising contrition with a reality and a virtue infinitely greater than that of all the saints and penitence together, for he is the one victim for us all, the sole satisfaction, The real penitent, all but the real sinner.”
He saw everything that happened in Boulder and then did penance for it in his trial, his crowning of thorns, his scourging at the pillar, the carrying of his cross and ultimately in the crucifixion. That is where God was last Monday.
You and I are here for several purposes. The first purpose of the requiem mass is that of every other mass: to give to God the worship that is due to him, which is possible only through Christ, our Lord. As it is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice. The victim is one and the same. The same now offers through the Ministry of Priests who then offered himself on the cross, only the manner of offering is different. And since in this defined sacrifice, which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloodied manner. And this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.
The second purpose we are here today is to thank God, the father, for having created Eric Talley. What a creation he was. He was a good man, an honorable and faithful father, a faithful husband, a son, a friend, a faithful and heroic officer of the law. But I will stop there since traditional Catholics do not want to be canonized at their funerals. They want prayers for their stay in purgatory, they want prayers for their loved ones whom they left behind.
The third purpose of this mass is to thank God, the son, for redeeming Eric. What he did for Eric, he did for all. Yes, even for his enemies. None of us can justify ourselves before God. And if we receive sacramental absolution, it is only because God the Holy Ghost takes the sacrifice of Christ and joins it with our efforts to improve, to become good.
This is sanctification. And this is our fourth purpose here: to thank God, the Holy Ghost, for having sanctified Eric in the sacraments. This thanksgiving is shown in many ways, such as those in attendance here, we are deeply grateful for the presence of our archbishop.
We are deeply grateful for the outpouring of support for Mrs. Talley and her family. We are profoundly grateful to all the officers of the law, many of whom who have traveled a long way to be here. We think the Boulder Police Chief, Harold, others from Officer Talley’s Boulder Police Department. We thank Representative Valdez, who is here, the staff at the Cathedral Basilica, Father Cattany, the rector of the cathedral, who immediately agreed when we asked permission from my parish to have the requiem here at the basilica. There’s so many to thank, such as the Colorado of Fallen Heroes Foundation and all the law enforcement agencies from around the state, which had done so magnificently to support the family throughout the last week. When our blessed savior died on Golgotha, a Roman centurion who was there, said, truly, this man was the son of God. He was right. But we want to say to the centurion, “do something.” His mother is right over there. She’s already lost her husband and now she’s lost her only begotten son. So don’t just stand there. Go back to the barracks, take up a collection.
This has been done in many ways by the police, fallen heroes, our parish by so many coming in from all over. And who knows, but that some politicians will show some common sense and move to increase funding for the police. And perhaps even more sense will be shown by efforts to restore Christian culture to our country; writing more and more laws will not be sufficient. But in the meantime, today, we give thanks to God for Eric’s life by celebrating a rite of Mass, which Eric loved; he loved this Mass. The ancient Roman rite gives Thanksgiving to God for Eric, gives comfort to his loved ones, makes reparation for evil, and sanctifies us if we let it. And it does so by several means, first, by reverence. Reverence is a word from the Latin language, reveriore, it’s a deponent verb, it means something you do and something that happens to you. And it is one of the several words in Latin for fear. The holy Eucharist, the altar, the missile, the crucifix, Eric’s mortal remains, all of these things are given the utmost reverence at the heart of which is fear of harming someone or something that we love. So we prayed the utmost human respect to the mortal remains of Eric Talley, not just because he died a hero, but because his body was a temple of the Holy Ghost by virtue of his baptism.
Second, by emphasizing the doctrine that the soul once created by God is not destroyed, but changed in the preface of the mass which father will sing, there’s the line “Vita mutatur, non tollitur“: “life has changed, not ended.” And this is represented by the candles, they’re different, the ones around Eric’s body and the ones on the altar, the ones on the altar of bleached wax, they represent you and I, the living, and they represent that we’re bleeps, so to speak. We do not appear to others as we truly are. But the candles around Eric’s coffin are unbleached wax, symbolizing that he is now gone to God just as he was created, just as he is. Unbleached, and it’s almost as if the flame coming from those candles is slightly different than the ones on the altar. Life has changed, not ended.
Third, by wearing black, the traditional Jewish and Western color of death, and this is in contrast, of course, to the age we live in, which often seeks to repress the cardinal emotion of sadness. If someone is sad, many in our times feel driven to cheer them up and not let them be sad. But before Jerusalem was destroyed, Christ wept. And he wept to the coming misfortune of his enemies and he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. There is a time to mourn, a time to weep. Yet, as St. Paul says, not as the pagans do, but as those who heaven hope.
Fourth, by praying for the repose of Eric’s soul, this ancient tradition so well exemplified by the Maccabees and the sacrifice they had ensured in the temple for their fallen comrades is carried on here today in this basilica.
This practice of praying for the dead assumes that there is a purgatory, Dr. Samuel Johnson, a famous Protestant man of letters, was asked by his biographer, James Boswell about the subject of purgatory. Their short exchange went like this:
Boswell: What do you think, sir, of purgatory as believed by the Roman Catholics?
Johnson: Why sir, it is a very harmless doctrine. They are of the opinion that the generality of mankind are neither so obstinately wicked as to deserve everlasting punishment, nor are they so good as to merit being admitted immediately into the society of blessed spirits. And therefore, God has graciously pleased to allow of a middle state, where they may be purified by certain degrees of suffering. You see, sir, there is nothing unreasonable in this.
Boswell: But then sir, their masses for the dead?
Johnson: Why sir, once these establish that there are souls in purgatory, it is as proper to pray for them as for our brethren, the rest of our brethren of mankind who are yet in this life.
Lastly, the traditional Latin requiem does not judge. It does not say in the text or the sermon that Eric was a saint or saintly or in heaven. It does not say in the text or the sermon that he was bad or evil in hell. It says simply he was a human being affected by original sin in need of salvation and was offered salvation by Christ. We cannot know if he received that salvation, although there are many, many signs that he did, and the greatest of those, perhaps, is how he died.
Since then, we do not have the pride to judge where he is, we behave with solemnity because as the archbishop said, he is now in the hands of God and God is the only one who can judge with perfect justice and perfect mercy.
Yet we do hope the best for him and our hope has a basis, but it is not the good things Eric did in this life, many as they were. Our hope is based instead on what our blessed Lord did for him from the Garden of Gethsemane to the resurrection, which is the definitive victory over sin and death in Christ, the second Adam. Mankind has passed from death to spiritual resurrection, to sonship, to grace, to participation in the life of the three divine persons, Christ rose for us and now has established the bridge to heaven that leads on after him to the father.
Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, “It is part of the mystery of God that he acts gently that he only gradually builds up his history within the great history of mankind, that he chooses to come to mankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom he revealed himself that he continues to knock gently at the doors of our heart and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to him.”
And is this not the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom to offer and elicit love. If we attend to the witnesses with listening hearts and open ourselves to the signs by which our Lord again and again authenticates himself, then we know that he is truly risen. So this requiem Mass is also a gentle knocking at the doors of our hearts to entrust ourselves to the risen Lord Christ has saved us in principle by his death and resurrection. And we can be open to his power by our living faith. As St. Paul put it, “Whoever is born of God overcomes the world, and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world but he that believes that Jesus is the son of God. Thomas the Apostle went all the way to recognizing Christ’s divinity, but Jesus said to Thomas, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. St. Therese of the Child Jesus affirmed that we are just as blessed as the apostles, we have their sure witness and the grace to believe. May each of us accept that grace which is being offered here and now.
In the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Featured photo by Daniel Petty