Fr. Felix’s Joy
Today I cannot help but think of how much we will miss Father Felix. His infectious joy, his witty observations, his enthusiasm at Giants’ and 49ers’ games, and his welcoming smile followed by, “It’s so good to see you!” Whether he was in the parking lot, in the Church, or if you were going to confession – his joyful welcome offered hope and encouragement. He made every one feel special, and perhaps it was because he saw Christ in each person he met.
Today we honor the life of no ordinary man. Everyday he ministered the saving mysteries to God’s holy people. He stood alongside them when their babies were baptized and when their loved ones were buried. He prepared couples for marriage and visited the sick in the hospital. He brought the Eucharist to the home bound and called people to repentance from the pulpit.
To his brother priests, he was a continual source of joy and inspiration. In the pattern of his Lord he made his life a touchstone of grace for all those privileged enough to know him and to be ministered to by him. This man, who lived an extraordinary life by virtue of the grace of religious life and priesthood, now goes to join Jesus Christ whom he served so well.
Father Felix’s life was marked by service to Jesus and to God’s people. There is no other way to understand his life. A man does not become a priest to amass wealth and fame. A man becomes a priest to bring Christ to others. The life of a priest is a life lived for others.
Father Felix lived for no other purpose than to preach Christ; both by his words and by his example. In so doing, he became an inspiration to countless “spiritual children” in the parishes he served, but especially his beloved Saint Dominic’s in San Francisco – where he was baptized and from where he will be buried.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” Our brother took these words to heart. More than a servant, Father Felix was a disciple of Christ. The power of his ministry flowed from his personal relationship with Jesus. He sought, everyday, to love from his heart those he ministered to out of reverence for Jesus. For this reason, everyone who met him knew that they were encountering a holy man, a man of God.
Father Felix was unmatched in his devotion to Saint Jude, the patron saint of impossible cases. In the iconography of Saint Jude, in almost every image of him, he is depicted as wearing a medallion or strip of cloth on his chest bearing the image of Jesus Christ. This is the most common attribute of Saint Jude, and yet the most misunderstood. According to tradition, King Abgar of Edessa wrote to Jesus asking him to come cure him of an illness. Abgar received a letter from Jesus, declining the invitation but promising a future visit by one of his disciples, which ended up being Saint Jude. Saint Jude came to Edessa, bearing the words of Jesus, by the virtues of which the king was miraculously healed. Since that time Saint Jude is depicted holding the image Jesus, whom he brought and preached to the King and his people.
Throughout his priestly life many people came to Father Felix seeking God’s healing. In many ways, Father Felix bore the image of Christ in his person as he welcomed, greeted, blessed and consoled countless Saint Jude pilgrims, parishioners, and others seeking Christ. The image that Father Felix bore was the face of Christ – that merciful, loving, and healing face of the Redeemer.
Right up to the end of his life, including the last Feast of Saint Jude, Father Felix enjoyed blessing the people with the first class relic of Saint Jude. As close as he was to the saint, this was Father Felix’s great honor – and it meant the world to those who came to him seeking Saint Jude’s intercession.
He loved the hymn to Saint Jude that was sung at every 5:30pm Mass. He called it the “Fight Song.” When it was sung he would smile and with great enthusiasm sing as loudly as he could – until the very last verse.
Jesus also tells us in the Gospel: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” To follow Christ means to turn our back on the world with its empty pleasures and false promises. It means to turn our back on our very lives and to seek the kingdom of God. While this is true for all the baptized, it is especially true for the priest who is chosen from among men to minister the mysteries of God.
Father Felix’s greatest joy was to celebrate the Mass. In these last years he rarely missed the 5:30pm daily Mass, the Mass dedicated to the Saint Jude. While in his ministry he poured himself out for others, at the table of the Lord’s Supper he came to Jesus to be filled again. In his reverent and prayerful manner, he would become lost in the prayers and the readings.
He was deeply aware that he was handling Jesus’ Body and Blood and so was able to draw the congregation into the mystery he celebrated. Acting in the person of Christ, he would become Christ! Whatever he may have been suffering, whatever difficulties he may have been facing, especially in these later years, they were all transformed at the altar into thanksgiving and praise. We pray that he may now be admitted to the heavenly liturgy with the saints in heaven.
We can come to understand, then, why he was able to touch so many lives and change so many hearts. It was Jesus shining through everything he did. We heard Jesus speaking to us when Fr. Felix spoke to us. We saw Jesus forgiving us when Fr. Felix heard our confession. We felt Jesus touch us when he ministered the Eucharist to us. In his life, our brother truly became “another Christ.” And, as with Jesus, no one who met him was ever the same.
It was no wonder that the line to his confessional was always the longest, and that he spent a good amount of time in there. We pray that he now see Christ face-to-face in heaven.
Father Felix’s ministry on earth has come to an end. We gather with a spirit of gratitude for a life lived in the service of the gospel. In that spirit we cannot fail to recognize that today’s Mass is above all a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus has conquered sin and death. Through this saving mystery the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us witnessing to our spirit that we are sons and daughters of God.
Our brother was one in a long line of priests stretching back to the Apostles – to Saint Jude – who dedicated themselves tirelessly to this gospel message. The gospel is what gave meaning to Father Felix’s life and what strengthened and consoled him as he approached his death. He would want nothing else than that we take the occasion of his death to lift our minds and hearts to Christ, whom he loved so dearly.
He would want nothing else than that we recommit ourselves to the promises – whether they are the promises of our ordinations, religious vows, or our baptismal promises – and go from this place to serve God’s holy people with renewed enthusiasm and with his characteristic, infectious joy.
We honor saints on the anniversary of their deaths. It is on the day that they enter into their heavenly inheritance that we celebrate the holiness of their lives. This demonstrates the great truth of the Christian faith – death is not to be feared. Rather, death is to be embraced as the way to everlasting life and never-ending glory with Christ in heaven.
Today we gather to honor a man who never failed to see the good in us and called us to be saints. We have lost an uncle, a great uncle, and a friend. We have lost a confessor, a spiritual director and a preacher. But we have gained an intercessor, an advocate for us at the throne of grace. And we can never lose the example of fervor, holiness and humility he left for us.
There is no doubt in my mind, that as the Lord received Father Felix into paradise, he said, “Oh, Oh, it is so good to see you!”