Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Funeral of Highway Patrol Officer Patrick McDonald
Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
September 30, 2008
Today we assemble in this sacred place, the Cathedral Basilica of Philadelphia, in the presence of Almighty God, the Father of love and the God of all consolation.
We gather together to pray, asking the Lord God to envelop in His eternal love the soul of Highway Patrol Officer Patrick McDonald. His obituary succinctly identifies him for the world: “Tragically fallen in the line of duty on September 23, 2008 at the age of 30. Beloved son of Lawrence and Patricia McDonald. Loving brother of Megan McDonald and the late Michael McDonald. Grandson of the late James and Ann McDonald, and the late George and Merion Gillin. Boyfriend of Joanne Heary.”
But Officer McDonald belonged also to all of us. He was a part of our community, a public servant of our city, a friend of our people. He was likewise a member of our Catholic Church. For all these reasons, with respect and love we evoke his memory here this afternoon, expressing to his parents, his sister and all his loved ones our prayerful solidarity in their great loss and in their enduring pain of separation.
We sorrowfully acknowledge that his passing from our midst was caused by the evil of a great crime, the magnitude of which is so difficult for the human mind to fathom fully. And yet we know that sin and evil can never have the last word and that they cannot obliterate the hope of eternal life that is forever linked to our deepest convictions.
The religious faith of Officer McDonald truly holds out in the midst of darkness a hope that cannot be extinguished. “For this,” Saint Paul says, “we toil and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all... (1 Timothy 4:10).
We turn to the Sacred Scriptures to find consolation and the assurance of final victory over death and its causes which are sin and evil. We are uplifted by words from the Book of Wisdom that tell us: “The just man, though he die early, shall be at rest.... 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” (Wisdom 4:14).
Equally consoling for all of us are those beautiful and enduring words of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake.”
Summarizing the whole Christian view of death, Saint Paul writes: “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
These words offer deep consolation and hope, even more when combined with the very words of Jesus just proclaimed in the Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
Even as we offer to the parents and loved ones of Officer McDonald God’s word of solace and reassurance, we wish to add our own expression of sympathy and condolence. We cannot compensate for so great a loss but we can share generously with them all the affection of our heart.
And for all of us who remain and who have been so deeply affected by another tragic act of violence, we know that we must continue to face evil and the power of evil wherever it surfaces. Denunciation and lamentation are not enough to free us from the evil of violence and the repeated violations of human dignity. Saint Paul’s injunction is so very relevant to our society: “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
And if, as a community, we are to be faithful to the memory of Officer McDonald, and truly grateful for his sacrifice for the well-being of us all, we must recommit ourselves to the elimination of the causes of such senseless violence.
Together we must stand on the side of human life and human dignity, teaching and inculcating by word and example the inherent value of every human being fashioned in the image and likeness of God Himself. By respecting and constantly insisting on respect for the inviolability of every human person in whom is reflected the dignity of God the Creator, we will build together, here in our beloved city and community, a civilization of justice, peace and love. All of us must contribute in our own way to protect and defend the community from all that wounds, weakens or destroys human life and dignity.
Our own efforts, however, in this regard are insufficient in themselves. We need God’s help to succeed. We must invoke this help. In God we trust! He is our strength.
Even as we gather around the sacred body of our fallen Officer and posthumously express our gratitude and admiration for his contribution to our society, we express support and solidarity for all our officers and public servants who strive to foster our common good in a new civilization of non-violence and peace, which is one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
We commend you, Patrick, to the mercy of Almighty God and ask Him to sustain your parents and all your loved ones in His embrace of love until we meet again. Amen.