Friday, April 4, 2014

Laudate Dominum In Sanctis Eius

In February I learned that my old Latin and Etymology teacher, Mr. Bob Butz, died. Some amazing tributes were written by friends and former students (here and here and here, and more that were just on Facebook walls). I longed to write something, but I couldn't put my thoughts together. I told myself on the morning of the funeral that I would write something—anything—on the way back to Nebraska. But then Fr. Thomas Haan, another former student of Mr. Butz and a priest less than a year ordained, gave this funeral homily. He said everything I would have wanted to say and more. And as Fr. Haan gave this beautiful sermon, I was not envious of his skill (though I certainly could have been); I was just grateful that I was there to hear it.

I asked him if I could have a copy, and if I could share it. He humbly consented. Mary Schnerre's recent telling of the books and notes of Mr. Butz that they have been going through, and of the hand-carved wood trim they found that had been inscribed with Psalm 150 (see above), made me think that now was a good time to share Fr. Haan's homily. 

Fr. Thomas Haan
February 10, 2014
Funeral Mass homily for L. Robert Butz
St. Boniface Catholic Church

When a person thinks of Bob Butz baseball stories, one immediately thinks of the almost mythical moment when his father took him as a little boy to a local Yankees exhibition game. According to Bob, his dad walked him right to the dugout and introduced him to Babe Ruth, who in turn introduced him to Lou Gehrig. They signed a ball for him, but as boys are apt to do, he soon lost it.
But the Bob Butz baseball story which first comes to my mind occurred ten or fifteen years after he met the Great Bambino. Bob told me when he was an early teenager there was a Father-son game in town. He had been pitching, and pitching well. Toward the middle of the game, who walks into the batter’s box but his father. The pressure was on, and he wanted to throw the ball with all he had. On his first pitch, his dad promptly knocked it out of the park.
He would always end that story by saying, “Talk about mixed emotions!” He was disappointed that he didn’t blow one past his dad, but underneath his feeling of defeat, he was he so proud of his father’s blast. Talk about mixed emotions.
We who still find ourselves in this valley of tears feel an overwhelming (and even scary) sense of loss. It sounds trite but the world has lost a treasure. WE have lost a treasure. But at the very same time, underneath this sense of defeat, we all have some interior awareness tucked deep within that tells us that this man, in the words of St. Paul, has “achieved life’s goal: his salvation.” Talk about mixed emotions. Right now the sense of loss overwhelms the joy, but maybe through the passage of time it will at least balance out.
Many here today knew him simply as “Mr. Butz,” and this formal nomenclature just seemed fitting. The man exuded a presence which evoked a deep respect, which was reflected in how you addressed him.
Others knew him simply as “Bob,” like his colleague and good friend Dick Jaeger, the Music Program Director and Jeff, who gave a moving and humorous tribute to his friend yesterday evening at Soller-Baker. Like Mary Wagner and her boys who lived across the street. Mary took such good care of Bob over the last several years, watched over him like a mother hen.
But a special few of you were privileged to call him Uncle Bob, and I’d venture to say that even hearing the name “Uncle Bob” will still bring a surge of joy to your hearts for years and years to come. He so cared for his sisters, he deeply loved his nieces and nephews, and he was so proud of his great nieces and nephews. He would buy his nieces expensive dresses, he would teach you all music, he bought you guitars, and tried to teach you to root for the White Sox. He lavished his love on you. He was such a big part of your life.
Beyond his own family, he had so many passions in life. His first was probably sports, and he would admit that studies took a backseat to his athletic interests in his early years. But gradually he acquired a love for words and languages. He developed a love of the arts, for painting, for sculptures, a love which probably came from his hero, his Grandfather Stephen Ketterer. He loved to work with his hands, and became a mason of sorts. He loved music, directing so many choirs over the decades, most memorably the men’s choir which would sing at the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon and at the Transitus, which celebrated the beautiful death of St. Francis. Today we celebrate a similar passing into eternal life, Bob’s own transitus.
He also loved books, and books were what consumed many of my conversations with him. Of course he loved the great American authors: Hemingway, Whitman, Thoreau. But he loved all books: we would talk about theology books, Scripture books, poetry books. We began a trend of exchanging books, and once he gave me a little fiction book he would read his students every year around Christmas time. It’s called, “The Other Wise Man,” detailing the journey of a fourth wise man, who never makes it to the crib at Bethlehem with the other three magi. Even before reading it I looked at the title and thought to myself, “Now there’s a title for a biography of Bob Butz: The Other Wise Man.”
But in all this variety of passions in his life: art, music, masonry, words, languages, books... there is a unity in their diversity. Because ultimately, we know why he was passionate about these things.
He read books and books and books to pursue TRUTH. Yes, the truth for the sake of learning the truth, to expand the mind, to educate oneself. But he knew that all truth finds its origin in God, who is Truth. He had a thirst to know his God, to obtain knowledge of the God he loved so much. To grow in knowledge is to draw closer to God.
He deeply loved his family and was good to them. He treated his students with respect, and was generous to the poor. He was a good man, but he didn’t do these things merely because it was the “right thing to do.” He didn’t go to the grotto of Lourdes in France every year to bathe the sick and crippled in its healing waters … He was good because the God he loved so much is good, that all GOODNESS comes from God and when you live in God’s goodness, you draw closer to that God.
Bob was a musician, he was an artist, he was a vocalist. Yes, he loved these things because he was attracted to BEAUTY. But of course he didn’t slave over his stage backdrops and wood carvings and pencil sketches merely to delight his desire for attractive things. He knew that all beauty was an emanation of the God whom he found beautiful, who was the source of all beauty. Each time he encountered beauty or created something beautiful, he drew closer to the God he loved.
Yes, there is a clear unity in the life of Bob Butz, a golden thread which was woven throughout his 92 years. Through his love of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, this was a man who lived for God. And there is further evidence for this. Some know of his extreme dedication to his weekly hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament… at 4 in the morning. Most know of his tender and childlike love for our Blessed Mother, lived out in his dedication to his daily Rosary and his meditation on its mysteries. And of course his love for Scripture and his daily reading of it. And as a result of this he became a clear and palpable image of Our Lord in our midst. Whenever you came in contact with Bob you had a renewed zest for life, a deeper desire to live a better life. Isn’t this the effect the presence of Christ should have?
And now we begin to talk about a “legacy” of Bob Butz, a man so full of knowledge and wisdom. Yes, so many of his students have acquired knowledge from him. Being inspired by his life many will go out and contribute to education as teachers, become artists and authors and musicians. But no matter how vigorous make efforts in these pursuits, no matter how much we contribute to the development of culture or society, if we don’t do these things for the same reason Bob did, then it will really be no true legacy at all. His one Love must become our one love.
It is recorded that while St. Francis was nearing his own death, he welcomed what he called “Sister Death.” I doubt that is the way Bob would have thought of his own death… but I think he would now. Because it was only through death that he was finally able to be united with the loving Lord he had pursued his entire life on earth. Our job today at this funeral Mass is to commend his soul to God, that God’s mercy will wash over him and welcome him to the heavenly banquet. Because it is there, where we shall see God face to face, that there are no longer any mixed emotions.

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