Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Funeral of Monsignor George R. Demuth
28 October 2017
On behalf of Bishop Timlin, Bishop Dougherty, the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the Church of Scranton, I extend to Monsignor’s sister Marian, to his nieces and nephews, to his family and dear friends and to the Little Sisters of the Poor, Father Kelly and the staff of Holy Family Residence our sympathy and prayers. You lost a very important part of your lives and we lost not only the oldest priest of the Diocese of Scranton, but a gentleman and a priest who simply was one of the finest to ever serve this local church.
My relationship with Monsignor Demuth began on November 8, 1983, three days after I was ordained and assigned by then Bishop O’Connor to serve as Monsignor’s assistant pastor at Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish in South Scranton. To say that we were opposite personality types would probably be an understatement. When coupled with an age difference of 37 years – suffice it to say that the 1981 Broadway Show entitled Mass Appeal that chronicled the relationship of an older, well-established pastor and his young, unseasoned assistant had nothing on us! Yet, we grew to appreciate and respect each other deeply over the years. In fact, when I was informed of his passing, I said to Monsignor Muldowney, our Vicar General, that given Monsignor Demuth’s age, if he requested someone to preach his homily who might not be in a position to do so, I would be honored to preach. In response, Monsignor Muldowney stated, “Monsignor Demuth beat you to the punch. He already has you listed as the homilist.” And I am honored and humbled to fulfill this role.
I will leave the treasured work of remembering the countless numbers of stories that involved so m any of you and Monsignor to your personal reflections during the course of this day. For my part, while my initial experiences of Monsignor Demuth evoke memories of closed circuit TV cameras – well ahead of their time, alarms and buzzers and gadgets, not to mention “all things German,” the priest and friend I came to know for the past thirty-four years taught me and, I’m certain, all of you so much more … about life, about the gift of the priesthood, about aging with grace and gratitude, and most especially about what it means to be a person of faith.
We all know that Monsignor would hardly be thrilled to be held up as an example of faith for us today. Yet, in so many simple ways he challenged us to see God in the midst of our lives, didn’t he? Therefore, what better place to look than his life, to see how one man, one Christian, one priest lived the faith, and gives us hope in our efforts to do the same.
Today’s gospel – St. Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes – is a perfect starting point. This familiar and beloved gospel passage challenges us to abandon our desire for control in life and to recognize our utter dependence upon God and upon each other. To be a people of the Beatitudes is to embrace the spirit of humility that begins with valuing life as a gift from God, a gift we have received on through God’s love, not through anything we have done to deserve it – and a gift that will carry us through this world to God’s eternity of life and peace if we but open our hearts to his presence through faith
Blest are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. … This beatitude sets the tone for the entire gospel passage. Do you know what it means to be poor in spirit? It means that we are humble enough to acknowledge our need for God and our dependence upon him. It means that we are not too proud to say that it’s God who is the source of our life; it’s God who carries even the strongest of us through each day. It’s God who is the focus of all that we do and all that we are.
For twenty-six years, Monsignor served as pastor of his beloved Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish in South Scranton. While he oversaw the building of the rectory and the remodeling of the church, his efforts were never about pointing to himself but were always focused on the pastoral care, the wellbeing and the safety of the people entrusted to his care. … When the time came for him to retire after serving the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton for 77 years, he left St. Mary’s with a grateful heart, never looking back, never criticizing, never suggesting that his approach might have been better than those who followed after him. … His ministry was about the one whom he proclaimed – Jesus – and not himself. … Blest are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blest too are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. … Life is the greatest gift we receive from God – so precious a gift that we grieve when life is lost – as we do today.
Like all of us, Monsignor grieved the loss of those he loved: his mother and father, his dear sister, Jean, and countless numbers of parishioners and friends. But his belief in the resurrection was so deep and so profound that it sustained him and enabled him to help others face their grief and loss. … Blest are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled.
Blest are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. … Do you know what another word for mercy is? Love. Blest are they who love generously, by the witness of their lives and not merely the words that they share. Blest are they who give of their time, who sacrifice, who work hard for those entrusted to their care, who are grateful for all that they have been given.
I couldn’t begin to count the number of times during the four years that I served with Monsignor at Saint Mary’s that he would thank me for the things that I did at the parish – whether it was planning a special liturgical celebration or cooking a less than stellar meal. He was a gentle and kind priest who, in his own quiet way, loved generously. … Blest are they who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs.
Blest too the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. … What a gift it is to be blessed with peace and to work to create an environment of peace in which we hold fast to our values and live with respect for one another. Monsignor’s example during the past few years, his acceptance of the diminishment that comes with aging, his graciousness amid physical struggles and his peaceful demeanor are testimony of the abiding peace of Jesus at the center of his life.
Blest are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. … Doesn’t this beatitude speak to the man whose memory we hold so dearly today. He preached and lived the Gospel of Jesus with deep conviction. He never rationalized away the message nor did he fear the opinions of those who maintained that the Gospel was outdated and out of touch with the world in which we live. Would that we all were as committed to the Gospel message.
As we reflect during these blessed moments upon Monsignor Demuth’s life through the framework of the Beatitudes of Jesus, we see so much, don’t we? … We see the blessings of a long and full life and how God was woven into every step of the journey. … We see the gift of the priesthood and its power to touch and change hearts to God. … We see that a life given in service has every reason to expect the resurrection. … And we especially see a pattern of life and love and service that every one of us as followers of Jesus – like our brother George – is called to embrace in our lives – a pattern of life, love, service and faith that ultimately give us hope and the promise of resurrection and peace.
So we give thanks this day the life of our brother, our uncle, our pastor and our friend, Monsignor George Demuth. … We give thanks for 71 years of priestly life and ministry. … We give thanks for his example to us of what it means to be a faithful disciple and follower of Jesus. … And we affirm in hope the Word of God proclaimed this day in Saint Matthew’s gospel to all who seek to embrace the life of Jesus as their own: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.”