Mass of Christian Burial
Most Reverend John M. Dougherty, D.D.
26 April 2022

On behalf of the bishops who honor us with their presence here today:  Bishop Gainer, Bishop Persico, Bishop Schlert, Bishop Lucia, Bishop Kulick, Bishop Fitzgerald, Bishop MacIntyre and Bishop Timlin, my brother priests and deacons, my sisters and brothers in consecrated life and all of the faithful of this local Church of Scranton, to Bishop Dougherty’s devoted family, Peg and Sally and his 20 nieces and nephews and dear friends, please know of our sympathy and prayers.  He was so very proud of all of you and so deeply grateful for your goodness to him.  Thank you especially for caring for him during the past year in which his health diminished.   While ever determined to remain active and independent, in the end, it was his trust in your love and care that gave him the permission to slow down and prepare for his final journey to the Father.

This past Thursday, I received a letter from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, in which he forwarded a message of condolence on the passing of Bishop Dougherty on behalf of His Holiness Pope Francis:

“His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of Bishop John Martin Dougherty, and he sends heartfelt condolences to you, to the late Bishop’s family, and to the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Scranton.  Recalling Bishop Dougherty’s years of priestly and episcopal ministry, marked by his example of simplicity of life and tireless dedication to the pastoral care of the sick and dying, His Holiness joins those gathered for the Mass of Christian Burial in commending his soul to the compassionate love of our Heavenly Father and cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in the Lord.”

                                                          Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State

Pope Francis captured the life and ministry of Bishop Dougherty well in acknowledging his simplicity of life and tireless dedication to the pastoral care of the sick and dying.  Since the Bishop’s passing on Holy Saturday, I’ve received innumerable messages like that of the Holy Father from Church and civic leaders and especially from members of the faithful from around our diocese and particularly from the parishes where he served.  In virtually every message, his kindness, his care and sensitivity especially to the poor and suffering, his simplicity of life and the depth of his holiness were recounted with deep gratitude.

Yet, as we reflect upon the generous and faithful ministry of Bishop Dougherty, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge another characteristic of the Bishop’s life with which I’m sure you will all agree.  …  No one – no one – would have wanted to avoid or shun such words and remembrances more than Bishop Dougherty himself.  We all know that he crafted into an art form avoidance of the attention that so often accompanies the office of pastor or bishop.  He was clearly far more comfortable serving in the shadows of the Chancery, in hospitals and on the streets with the poor than in positions of honor or recognition.

Permit me to share one personal recollection of such behavior that took place in this very cathedral during his episcopal ordination in 1995.  For most of the time throughout that lengthy ceremony, Bishop Dougherty sat with head bowed and eyes cast down to the floor.  No doubt overwhelmed by the magnitude of that moment in his life, it was also quite clear that he was uncomfortable with all of the attention focused on him.  I was a young priest who was serving as one of the Masters of Ceremonies and was charged with accompanying the new Bishop out of the cathedral at the end of the ceremony.  As we passed his family seated in the front pew with the choir singing some glorious hymn, I will never forget two words that were offered in a stage whisper by one of his brothers, “John, smile!”  …  And he did – at least until his was half-way down the aisle.

If you knew him well, you knew that he actually smiled a lot – was far more mischievous than most would believe – and had an outstanding dry sense of humor.

But I can hear the Bishop speaking to me right now with his ever deferential demeanor:  “Bishop, remember you were charged with preaching the Word of God, not telling stories about me.”  …  So let’s reflect for a bit on the sacred scriptures, the lessons they provide and how they speak to the Bishop’s life.

The first reading suggested during this Eastertide takes us to the final part of the Book of Revelation as it opens with a vision of a new heaven and a new earth.  The vision reveals a time when creation will be renewed and a new Jerusalem – a figure of the people of God – would be established.  Then, the scripture writer proclaims that God’s very dwelling would be with the human race.  God would dwell in the new Jerusalem.  God will be with his people.

This promise of a new world order is both a reminder and a challenge.  It reminds us that we human beings have sinned against God’s world through our failure to respond to the needs of the lives that God has placed within our own. And it challenges us to open our hearts to God’s will and way, especially in our relationships with that part of creation made in God’s own image and likeness:  the brothers and sisters God has given to our care.  …  Yes, it is God who declares “I make all things new.”  But God has also chosen to engage us in the work of redemption.  In God’s plan, a new world for humankind can only come about when we become involved and when we seek, with God’s help, to make the pattern of Jesus’ life our own.

It is with this understanding of the human person as the summit of God’s creation that the passage from Saint Matthew’s gospel comes into clear focus.  It is Jesus’ last discourse recorded by Matthew before the events of the Passion unfold.  In the vision Matthew presents, Christ, the Shepherd-King, clearly and unequivocally identifies himself with humankind and particularly the poor:  “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  …  Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

This glorious Easter season proclaims that we are saved solely by the mercy and love of God imparted to us through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Recall Saint Paul’s words in today’s second reading, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Therein is our boast!

Yet, our relationship with Christ, born in baptism, calls us to a faith that is far more than merely the passive acceptance of God’s love.  Bishop Dougherty understood the teaching of Jesus in the passage from today’s gospel as well as the vision from the Book of Revelation.  He understood that authentic faith demands that we “put on Christ” and that his life become the pattern for our lives.  Ultimately, our place in God’s kingdom will be determined by how generously we have made the life of Christ our own and reached beyond ourselves to bring justice, peace and reconciliation into the lives of those in whom Christ is present.

Long ago, Bishop Dougherty, opened his life to Christ and understood the demands of true discipleship.  Yes, he worked closely, thoughtfully and selflessly with Bishops McCormick, O’Connor, Timlin and Martino in the administration of our diocese, most notably as Chancellor, Vicar General and Vicar for Administration.  But it was his willingness to put on Christ and to reach out to those on the peripheries of life, as Pope Francis has challenged us all, that is remembered and appreciated above all his other gifts and blessings.

He quite literally fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the imprisoned, welcomed the stranger, shared the sacraments generously and helped to create in his own simple way the new world – the new Jerusalem – envisioned in the book of Revelation.  Why can I make such a bold statement?  Because these are the stories that are being told throughout this local Church in these days since his passing and that countless numbers of you shared with me all day yesterday as you visited this cathedral to honor the Bishop.

There’s one more story, however, that needs to be told, for it captures an element of the Bishop’s life that is foundational to all of the good works that he accomplished.  A few days ago, a friend told me of how he often encountered the Bishop praying late in the evening in a back corner of the Eucharistic adoration chapel of Saint Catherine’s Parish in Moscow.  Therein we discover the key to understanding the generous and selfless life of Bishop Dougherty.  He served because he knew his Master well.

Saint Theresa of Calcutta captured the heart of today’s gospel message and this moment in our lives as we commend Bishop Dougherty to the loving heart of God.  “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.  We will be judged by this:  I was hungry and you gave me to eat … I was naked and you clothed me … I was homeless and you took me in.  Hungry not only for bread – but hungry for love; naked not only of clothing – but naked of human dignity and respect; homeless not only for want of a room of bricks, but homeless because of rejection.  This is Christ whom we are called to serve.”

So, brothers and sisters, we give thanks that one among us has embraced this great commandment as his own.  And we give thanks these words of Jesus are now proclaimed to our dear brother, John:  “Come you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world.