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Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon Him

Rocco (among others) is reporting the death, at age 95, of Walter Burghart, S.J., the famed Jesuit theologian and preacher:

Numbered by many among the nation's most eminent clerics of any denominational stripe, Burghardt authored countless works long and short, served on the Holy See's International Theological Commission, taught at Woodstock, Catholic U. and, of course, Georgetown. A 1998 documentary series on the nation's "Great Preachers" tapped Burghardt as one of two priests among the group of nine servant-masters of the pulpit -- helmed, as one would expect, by the age's first heir to George Whitefield, Billy Graham. (For the record, both Catholic contributions to the list were Jesuits.)The successor of John Courtney Murray as editor of Theological Studies -- a post he held for 24 years -- he wrote on topics as varied as preaching in the American vernacular, man's merit of peace, the Holy Family and the proclaiming of the "just word" that became the cause of his later years. But the thread that ran through the whole of it was encapsulated in the title of a 1989 piece bearing an oft-necessary reminder in the journey: "Without Contemplation, the People Perish."

I'm sure that many folks here have their own favorite memories of Fr. Burghart. Mine dates from the Fourth Sunday of Advent in 1997, when my wife was pregnant with our son, Joseph. We were attending the 5:30 Sunday Mass at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown, where Fr. Burghart was presiding. The Gospel that day (Lk 1:39-45) spoke of Mary's journey to be with her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. Elizabeth greets Mary with the words "For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy." As Fr. Burghardt spoke those words in his rich, resonant voice, Joseph was leaping and cavorting within my wife. It gave the Gospel--indeed our entire Advent season--a deeper meaning.Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

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I never saw Father Burghardt preach, to my regret, but I always enjoyed reading anything he wrote. Rare that spoken words come off as well on the page, or vice versa. One well-worn passage that was new to me a few years ago, from a 1980 homily collection, is also one I like to cite when people ask how I could convert at the ripe age of 30 and after having worked at the Vatican, no less. I was going to comment on Joe Komonchak's earlier post about converts, but I'd have written more bytes than anyone would care to read. Better to cite Walter Burghardt: Let me make an uncommonly honest confession. In the course of half a century I have seen more Catholic corruption than you have read of. I have tasted it. I have been reasonably corrupt myself. And yet, I joy in this Churchthis living, pulsing, sinning people of God, love it with a crucifying passion. Why? For all the Catholic hate, I experience here a community of LOVE. For all the institutional idiocy, I find here a tradition of REASON. For all the individual repressions, I breathe here an air of FREEDOM. For all the fear of sex, I discover here the redemption of my BODY. In an age so inhuman, I touch here tears of COMPASSION. In a world so grim and humorless, I share here rich JOY and earthy LAUGHTER. In the midst of death, I hear here an incomparable stress on LIFE. For all the apparent absence of God, I sense here the real presence of CHRIST.

I never heard him speak, but the author of our homiletics textbook, in commenting on the importance of preparation, mentioned that Fr. Burghart spent an average of four hours (!) preparing for *each minute* of his homily. The author went on to comment that Fr. Burghart "has humbled us all". Indeed!