Funeral Homily for Judge William H. Carey, February 25, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Mary’s Parish, South Dartmouth, MA
February 25, 2015
Funeral Mass of Judge William H. Carey
Wis 3:1-9, Ps 23, Rom 8:31-39, Mt 25:31-45


The following text guided the homily: 

  • I’m very grateful to Father Rodney Thibault, pastor of St. Mary’s, for extending to me the privilege to preach the homily at this funeral Mass, and to Fr. Jack Morrison, Pastor of Our Lady of Purgatory Maronite Catholic Church in New Bedford, a friend of Bill’s from the Country Club, for concelebrating this Mass with us and augmenting our prayers for him and for his family.
  • In 1998, I met Bill and Ginny Carey for the first time, when they came on pilgrimage to Rome. I had been asked by Fr. Mark Hession, a priest of our, if I would have the time to meet them and show them the sites around the Vatican. It was one of the best decisions I made during my seminary years. I spent the day with them visiting some of the most sacred sites in Christianity and we finished with a great meal at Scarpone’s, a fabulous restaurant that night, the first of what would be many fun dinners over the course of the last 17 years. I took them through the excavations underneath St. Peter’s Basilica where there’s a pagan necropolis through which, in the first centuries of Christianity, when to be a Christian was a crime punishable by death, our Christians ancestors used to risk their lives to traverse in order to get to St. Peter’s grave. They took that risk not just out of religious piety. As many of the inscriptions show, they were going there to pray for their loved ones who had died. Right before the emperor Constantine in the 320s was going to bury the necropolis underground to construct the first basilica dedicated to St. Peter and changed the Roman laws to allow the pagan families to move their dead loved one’s remains out to other necropolises in the city, the Christians took advantage of the change in laws to start moving their dead in. They didn’t care so much that they would have not the chance to visit their loved one’s graves in the future. They just wanted to bury them as close as possible to St. Peter, praying that he would preferentially love those who were his neighbors awaiting the general resurrection and that he to whom Christ had given the keys of the Kingdom of heaven would open those doors for their loved ones to join him forever in Christ’s kingdom of love. As Catholic pilgrims invariably are, Bill was very moved by traversing that pagan necropolis following the footsteps of the courageous first generations of Christians on the way to pray at the tomb of the great follower and fisherman of the Lord, a great witness of conversion and the rock on whom he built his Church.
  • Today we all accompany William H. Carey not on a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s tomb but on on the last stage of the pilgrimage of his earthly life. Here in this beautiful Church of St. Mary’s in South Dartmouth, we assemble to pray to God, through St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s intercession, for what all the early Christians use to risk their lives to beg at the tomb underneath the altar in the Vatican Basilica: the gift of eternal life for Bill with God and all the saints.
  • Bill’s pilgrimage of faith began on May 17, 1925, just ten days after he was born. It happened in the womb of the Church, the Baptismal font, at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Fall River, where he was baptized by Father Kelleher in the presence of his parents Jim and Mae and his Godparents, William Murphy and Margaret Doherty. It continued through his first and many holy communions, his service as an altar boy, which he loved to talk about and which he continued even during his years of service for our country in the U.S. Navy. His pilgrimage of faith reached one of its happiest milestones in his marriage to Virginia Kelley on October 18, 1952 at St. Joseph’s Church in Fall River. And that journey, that dynamic life of faith, never stopped. Bill continued to serve God and his Church through helping to found the Diocesan Newspaper, The Anchor, on Msgr. Daniel Shalloo’s rectory floor in the late 1950s; through his volunteer work with Ginny at St. Joseph’s Parish in Fairhaven, for which they both received in 1967 the inaugural Marian Medal, the highest honor given in the Diocese to lay people; through his friendship and support of Bishop Connolly, a service and bond that led to his serving as a pallbearer at the late bishop’s 1986 funeral; through his becoming a Knight of St. Gregory, the only Member of that prestigious Vatican Order in our Diocese; through his help on and generosity to the Catholic Charities Appeal; through his work with the St. Thomas More legal guild and so many other ways. Bill was a man thoroughly distinguished by his deep Catholic faith, which influenced the type of husband and dad he was, the type of grandfather and great grandfather he was, the type of attorney and judge he was, the type of citizen and friend. Bill was a thoroughly convinced, full-time, joy-filled, humble and proud Catholic who staked his whole life on the lessons he learned in faith.
  • We see the faith that Bill believed, lived and professed in the readings his family has chosen for this, his funeral Mass.
  • In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, we read that the souls of the just are in God’s hands, that no torment shall touch them. Even though they seem in the view of the foolish — the worst insult in Biblical times, meaning someone who doesn’t see things the way God sees them, the way they really are — to be dead, Bill recognized that for those who live and die in Jesus, death is not the end, but it’s a change of address to a place far more beautiful than any earthly dwelling, made for us by God in heaven. He believed what we heard, that the faithful when they die are at peace, because grace and mercy are with God’s holy ones and his care never abandons his elect. That was what gave Bill an indomitable hope for eternal life.
  • In the Responsorial Psalm, we see the relationship a Christian is supposed to have with God, a relationship that Bill did have. Bill knew that the Lord Jesus was his shepherd and that with him he lacked nothing, he had it all. Even when he walked in darkness and hardship — and Bill, like anyone of us, had those tough times, including his sufferings at the end — he knew he never alone, but that the Lord was accompanying him with his rod and staff to strengthen him as a son and sibling, as a husband and dad, as a lawyer and judge, as a friend and respectful adversary when others opposed him in court. Bill was one who knew the Good Shepherd, heard his voice calling him by name, and sought to follow the him all the way to the verdant pastures and eternal wedding banquet where we pray his cup is now overflowing and his desire to dwell in the house of the Lord all his days is being fulfilled in ways far surpassing his imagination.
  • In the epistle of St. Paul to the Roman’s, we see the ultimate ground for Bill’s hope for eternity: if God didn’t even spare his own Son, St. Paul tells us, but handed him over for us all, will he not give us everything else besides? Bill knew that when God the Father was given the choice between letting Bill and the rest of us die alienated from him in sin or letting his only begotten Son die, God the Father chose to save our lives, loving us with a special predilection, and if God loves us that much so as to send his only Son so that we might not perish but have eternal life, then there’s nothing God won’t do. He’ll give us all the help we need in order to receive and respond to that incredible gift. And Bill gratefully received that help in his prayer, in his sacramental life, in his family love, in his service of justice, and beyond. And we pray that now he’s experiencing that nothing in all creation, including even death, can separate him from the incredible love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • In the Gospel, we see what Bill as a faithful Catholic believed about the judgment he himself received four days ago. As the great 16th century Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross once wrote, in the twilight of our life we will ultimately be judged not by the U.S. Constitution, not by Massachusetts statutes, not by any man-made laws and rules, but “by love,” specifically divine love and how we’ve enfleshed it. On the bench for 15 years, Bill had a deep understanding of the awesome responsibility of judging justly and fairly. But he also saw the trepidation of so many before him on the bench, knowing that his decisions were going to have such an impact on the life of the defendant and on the lives of all others affected. On February 21st, Judge Carey appeared before the Judge of Heaven and Earth. His honor came to meet the One to whom all honor, glory, wisdom, power and strength is owed. Perhaps the most influential legal personality in the South Coast in the last 50 years — through his work as a trial attorney with Charlie Desmarais; his representation of the New Bedford Standard Times and Ottoway Newspapers, and the towns of Marion and Fairhaven; his work as a proper, formal, fair and approachable judge; his advocacy before the Supreme Court of the first amendment; his passionate work to bring a law school to this area; and the counsel he gave after his retirement, all of this together constitutes an incredible lifetime corpus that is now justly archived at the New Bedford Free Public Archive — came to meet the great Lawgiver and the Lord of heaven and earth.
  • And he did so humbly. In 2011, Bill’s fellow Knight of St. Gregory Otto Von Hapsburg died and at the end of his funeral was brought for his entombment according to an ancient rite for the leaders of the famous royal family of Austria and Hungry. When the cortege reached the crypt, they knocked on the door and the Capuchin priest on the other side asked, “Who demands entry?,” and Otto was introduced for minutes by listing all of his royal titles. The Capuchin replied that he didn’t know him. A second time there was a knock and the Capuchin Franciscan asked, “Who demands entry?,” and those with Otto listed all of his civic and charitable achievements over the course of his life, only to be rebuffed by the Capuchin’s saying he didn’t know him. Finally, they knocked a third time and the Capuchin asked, “Who demands entry?.” This time the response was, “Otto, a mortal, and a sinner.” The Capuchin opened the doors and said, “So may he come in.” Four days ago our friend Bill appeared before God not as an accomplished Judge. He didn’t appear with a lengthy legal curriculum vitae. He appeared as a humble son of God, as a Christian from the day of his baptism, as a faithful son of Jim and Mae, as a husband of Ginny, as a dad of Bill, Susan, Bob, Greg, Christopher and Paula, as a grandfather of 11 and great-grandfather of two as a friend, as a mortal and a sinner. And he was judged by the same criteria all of us will be judged, the criteria Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel. And it’s on the basis of those criteria we’re filled with so much hope today, because Bill as a man of faith took those criteria seriously.
  • Jesus in the Gospel says that he takes personally our care for the poor, for the hungry and thirsty, for the immigrant, for the imprisoned, for the sick, for the naked and the homeless. Those who are given the awesome privilege to be on his eternal right side are those who when they found someone in need, helped. “When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill or imprisoned and help,” Jesus said that the saved will ask, and Jesus said that he would respond, “As often as you did it for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.” And we rejoice that Bill was a man who took this type of Christ-like love seriously. He was someone who was always actively involved in the Catholic Charities Appeal from the days of Bishop Connolly onward. In his service on the bench, he sought to give people second chances when they merited them, treating them with the respect that Jesus himself never saw before the tribunals of the Sanhedrin, Herod or Pontius Pilate. Bill often helped me help my parishioners who had gotten into some trouble in order to assist them to get the most merciful hearing. Bill was also charitable with his family. Little did Bill grasp when he was doing it at the time that every time he worked to put food on the table for his wife and children, he was not just feeding them but feeding the Lord. Little did he grasp that when he was feasting on Fall River Frankfurters with his grandkids culminating in ice cream for desert, that he was delighting with the Lord. Little did he grasp that every time he was caring for his loved ones when they were sick, every time he was listening to prisoners who had turned their lives around, every time he was giving a fair hearing to immigrants, every time he was helping out with the many great charitable outreaches here at St. Mary’s Parish, Jesus was taking those actions personally. And so we’re very hopeful that a few days ago when Bill, a mortal and a sinner, appeared before the universal Judge and King surrounded by all his angels, that in the midst of that awesome courtroom, the Judge himself would have taken on the faces of members of his family, of clients who had come to him in desperation, of defendants and plaintiffs whose names he might have long forgotten and told him how whatever he had done charitably to them, he had done to Christ.
  • That’s why we’re filled with such hope today, because Bill knew that to believe in Jesus meant to believe in what he said and with God’s help live it. And that’s what Bill tried to do, treating the Lord as Lord, seeking to love him with all, not just some, of his mind, heart, soul and strength and seeking to let that love overflow toward his family, neighbors and all of us.
  • Bill’s faith was such that he would never have wanted us to celebrate his canonization today, because he, like Otto, like us, knew himself to be a mortal and sinner, and he would have wanted us to come here today to pray for him in the greatest prayer ever, the prayer that he would come to religious every Sunday and beyond, the prayer Jesus made from the Last Supper and the Cross that made salvation possible for him and, we pray, for us, too. He would also be so grateful that we’re here to console the family that he loved so much by our joining them in prayer, in faith, hope and love, and in gratitude to God for the gift of Bill’s 89 years.
  • There’s one last thing I’d like to say about Bill. People who knew Bill just a little couldn’t miss his serious side and his intellectual chops, but that was only part of who Bill was. He also had a very fun-loving, whimsical side known by his family members and friends and this is highly eschatologically relevant. Jesus said that to enter into his kingdom, we both need to come to full stature in Christ but also convert and become childlike, become more and more trusting in Him as little children are in their parents, and be filled with wonder. As much as Bill achieved in life, as much as he was a grown-up capable of dealing with grown up issues, he never lost his childlike spirit: the sense of wonder walking along the shore of the ocean; the sense of enjoyment of over simple meals and games with kids and grandkids; the sense of humor at his golf swing and scores. In his casket, he was buried with matchbox cars and wind up toys, from a fascination and an enjoyment with them that began young in life that he passed on contagiously to members of his family. He never lost a youthfulness even as he entered into his ninth decade. And we also saw that childlike spirit in his hunger to keep learning, to keep listening, to keep growing. He had such an active mind because he had a heart that yearned like a young child to know the truth. There’s a story his son Bobby told me yesterday about how Bill became a lawyer. He had intended to become a math teacher, and was majoring in Math at Providence College, but he took an elective on constitutional law. The professor told him how impressed he was at Bill’s excellence in the course, saying that he was absorbing the material as if it were a sponge. It was a momentous conversation, one that impacted not only his career but his whole life and the life of so many others, and especially the future life of his family because it was while he was at Boston College Law School that on public transportation he caught the eye of Virginia Kelley and began something beautiful that still inspires us all more than six decades later. Bill never lost that type of childlike absorption that so impressed his teacher at Providence College. He was constantly reading and forwarding articles to me. When he would invite me to dinner at his and Ginny’s, he would mention various things in the news and say, “We have so much to talk about!” We pray that that childlike spirit is now fully alive in a place in which his wonder will know no end and where with so many of the greatest who have ever lived, including St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Peter, Bill will be absorbing all the love of God on which he based his life. Today as we entrust his beautiful soul to the God who gave him to us for 89 years, as we pray for him and his family, we pray for the grace to imitate the emulable virtues we all witnessed in this good man, and God-willing, see him again and forever.

The readings for the funeral Mass were: 

Wis. 3:1 But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.  2 They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction 3 and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.  4 For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality;  5 Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.  6 As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.  7 In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;  8 They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their King forever.  9 Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.

Psa. 23:1 A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.  2 In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;  3 you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.  4 Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.  5 You set a table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  6 Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.

Rom. 8:31 What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  32 He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?  33 Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.  34 Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  35 What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?  36 As it is written: “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.”  37 No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,  39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matt. 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,  32 and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  34 Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,  36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’  37 Then the righteous will answer him and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’  40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’  41 Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’  44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’  45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’