Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “much of what the Bible demands can be compared in one word “Remember.” Through the writings of Scripture we learn how important it was for the early Church community to help the faithful to remember what they had received in order that they might carry it on to others. One of the major roles of the priest –even today - is to recall the same story: God entered into our life through Jesus, how he brought about our salvation. We remember the words of Jesus pertaining to the Eucharist: “Do this for the remembrance of Me.”
Henri Nouwen in a little book entitled “The Living Reminder” states “our memory plays a central role in our sense of being. Our pains and joys, our feelings of grief and satisfaction, are not simply dependent on the events of our lives, but also, and even more so, on the ways we remember these events.” (p. 19)
“Most of our human emotions are closely related to memory. Remorse is a biting memory, guilt is an accusing memory, gratitude is a joyful memory, and all such emotions are deeply influenced by the way we have integrated past events into our way of being in the world. In fact we perceive our world with our memories. Our memories help us to see and understand new impressions and give them a place in our richly varied life experiences.” (p. 19) Memories help us to avoid bad situations, and hopefully nurture us into good experiences.
Henri Nouwen reminds us how our hope is built on memories. “We do not always realize that among the best things we can give each other are good memories: kind words, signs of affections, gestures of sympathy, peaceful silences, joyful celebrations… they can save us in the midst of confusion, fear and darkness. (p. 60) The memory of Jesus guides us and offers us hope and confidence in the midst of a failing culture a faltering society and a dark world.” (63)
Today we are here to remember, to remember a man named Richard Freeman, and to thank God for his presence amongst us. Born in 1951, he was baptized on a Saturday in December in 1961, and Confirmed by the bishop one day later. He attended George Washington High School, and later Manhattan Community College. He was employed for many years at Bankers Trust.
He was devoted to this parish. He loved this parish, and in so many ways it was a real home for him. He was virtually adopted by this parish. Indeed, he lived for many years within the confines of Intercession buildings. He served as Verger, and with his talents helped to keep the building in as best order as he could.
One of the difficulties in preaching at the memorial service for someone whom you have not seen much in some 40 years is trying to remember accurately the things you want to say so that we might truly together celebrate his life. Hence, I reached out to a variety of his friends, old and new, who helped to confirm my thoughts, as well as add some new perspectives.
And they all agreed: Richard was a man of good character… and so good natured, friendly to all, a man of peace. Let me give some illustrations.
During the 1960s, drugs were rampant in this neighborhood – and in much of the city. Richard had the good common sense not to use heroin during the time that I knew him. I like to think that he never used heroin, which was in a short period time to kill several of his friends. For some, this may seem not such a big deal, but let me tell you it was.
We had a large EYC in those days. I remember this one particular year in the late 1960s when we had some 60 teenage members (30 boys and 30 girls) Of those 30 boys, 20 mainlined heroin, in that one year, or shortly thereafter. It wasn’t easy saying “no” when so many of your friends and acquaintances were saying “yes.” Richard said “no.”
He was a member of the choir under Clinton Reed for a while, but singing was not his forte. When we produced stage musicals (Bye Bye Birdie, etc.), he served on the stage crew; but when we produced our shows without singing, he was right up there on stage. I have a picture of him in one of our shows along with Robert Washington.
Among the acolytes, he was most faithful. He enjoyed serving at the altar, carrying the cross, and perhaps most of all – being the thurifer at the Mass.
He participated in the EYC, the teenage youth program of the Church. Teenagers can be a rowdy bunch – to say the least. Richard, however, was one of the ones who helped things to stay cool.
I am told that when I left this parish, he took over the leadership reins of the group, keeping the group going for as long as he could. He enjoyed working with younger students and was willing to give of himself for their benefit.
We used to have monthly Friday night dances in the upstairs hall. 500 of so teenagers would pack the place with their energy and music. We used to charge $1.00 a person, so we would raise $500 a night. This money was used to sponsor our weekend conferences at the YMCA Conference Center in Pawling, NY, as well as other activities. Richard was someone whom I knew I could count on to help keep order, to quiet down those who became upset or enraged. He was a peace maker, even in those days.
For many years Richard was active in the Cadet Corps of Minisink, and I have learned that he remained active in Pen and Scroll throughout his life. This was one of the ways in which he believed he could serve others. Apparently part of his role each Christmas was leading the Procession to the grave of Clement Clark Moore.
As the years passed, he could nolonger make the procession down to the grave. At his last Christmas here, he was dressed up as an elf of Santa, and remained at the front door of the church where he gave out candy and goodies to the children. Heloved being part of the mix, and the “mix” loved him being there.
I know that both Father Williams and Father Berto relied on Richard to help them in their work in this parish. They both told me that personally. Richard was one of the constants, a man upon whom they could rely.
His last few years were not easy. He unfortunately experienced more than his share of physical illnesses, and yet in the face of these, he was courageous. He was always of good humor
He was also a man of faith. Rarely did he miss Sunday Mass. I am told that even on the Sunday before he died, he managed to come to Church from the nursing home. More than any place on earth, this was his home.
Should this not be true for each one of us?
I know that each of us has family or friends, children or parents – numerous persons with whom we relate. We have our work partners, our friends in recreation, our casual acquaintances. Today we are here because one of our friends was Richard…and in the case of LeShan – even more. He was her father… and LaTytianna. He was her grandfather. Our prayers go out to them.
But should there not be a relationship which supersedes everything else… which makes meaningful all other relationships…. Which helps us to make sense of the ways of this world, which sometimes are not pretty… which helps us work through times of grief and separation?
And that relationship is with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday one of our readings from Scripture quoted Jesus as saying: “The Father and I are one.” To the unlearned or the non-believer, that may sound like nonsense. How can Jesus and God be one?
The Christian understanding is that there was such a bond of love between Jesus and his Father, that Jesus was able to be obedient to the will of his Father, even unto the Cross. That same bond of love he wishes for us… with Himself and with each other.
Now we consign Richard to the ages. We thank God for his presence with and amongst us. We pray for him: May he rest in peace and rise in glory.