Funeral homily for Bishop Robert C. Morlino Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Msgr. James Bartylla, Diocesan Administrator   
Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

Following are excerpts from the funeral homily for Bishop Robert C. Morlino given at his funeral Mass on December 4, 2018. The entire homily can be seen here.

Your Excellency Archbishop Listecki, visiting archbishops, bishops, distinguished civil leaders, my brother priests coming from near and far, deacons, those in consecrated life, seminarians, and our beloved lay faithful, we appreciate your attendance today at the Funeral Mass for Bishop Morlino.

I find myself with a difficult task today. Bishop Morlino gave me one instruction regarding his funeral homily which I plan to obey — my last act of obedience to my beloved bishop. As many know, I’ve directly worked for the Bishop for 14+ years, all but one of his years as the Bishop of Madison. I admit, sometimes we’re like an old married couple.

Request for funeral homily

When he asked me to give his funeral homily, we had dinner one night, and he asked the question. I told him I would be honored to preach the homily at his funeral. He then gave me one instruction — “Please ‘don’t canonize me.’”

He didn’t like the “celebration of life” funerals where the deceased became amazingly more virtuous than St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and the need for Our Lord’s mercy would recede into the background. The bishop honestly thought he would be fortunate if he made it to Furnace #57 in purgatory.

Thus, in true Bishop Morlino style, I have three points today.

Bookend events

Firstly, here is a bookend recap of the events that started almost two weeks ago. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I was on the phone with Bishop Morlino when he was being driven by William Yallaly, our chancellor, to the hospital for a scheduled medical test. I can state firmly that the last official act of the Bishop was one of mercy for someone who was a critic of the Bishop and the Church. This isn’t unfamiliar to those who worked closely with him.

From the respiratory and cardiac failure during the medical test, the Bishop never regained consciousness. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as circumstances went dire, it became the day of visitation of close friends, etc . . .

It was a beautiful day of visits. Dear friends and faithful priests made their visits, but what stood out for me were the Religious Sisters who came at the end of the day who prayed and chanted at his bedside. Never did I see the bishop look more episcopal than that day.

In all his helplessness, he looked more like the consummate Churchman, trading in his jeweled miter, Roman chasuble, gold crosier, and pectoral cross for a ventilator, surgical cap, and the plethora of monitors, but with the Sisters kneeling and praying at his bedside. It was a privilege to witness the power in weakness. It was the fullness of the Church with the Sisters there.

After the visit of the Sisters, the Bishop began to have erratic signs on the vigil of the Solemnity of Christ the King. I left the hospital for the evening expecting to arrive early the next day, and as I left the parking lot, I received a call from the MICU nurse to come back. Three priests (I was one of them), and William and Bridget, the chancellor and his wife, were there at his death. It was the Bishop’s last teaching moment — it became deeper and clearer in those last moments of his life how death is really the soul just leaving the body.

It was a blessed Catholic death from entering the hospital on the Presentation of Mary to dying on the vigil of Christ the King — a nice slice of incarnational salvation history.

Clericalism contrasted with the Churchman

The second point is one of the priesthood, something the Bishop holds dear. It is “Clericalism versus the Churchman”. We hear of clericalism now more frequently these days in the midst of the latest crises in the Church. As best as I know, clericalism is an “ism” with many strands.

I think clericalism is ultimately a human formation issue for priests, rather than a spiritual one. It’s the human dimension of the priest that either draws a false dependency on exterior signs to cover his lack of human formation, or conversely he thinks he doesn’t need the Church’s deep gifts of teaching, tradition, or symbolic life in a kind of pelagian individualism. Both are a kind of personal triumphalism.

The Bishop benefited greatly from his childhood days in Dunmore and Scranton, especially with the help of “granny” as he often said, where the culture supported a young man for priesthood and integrated nicely with Catholicism. However, today, young men thinking of the priesthood have to struggle against a culture that largely opposes the Church.

I find in this era of crisis in the Church, we need more Churchmen with that steady deep maturity, i.e., the priest who has the Church in his bone marrow, in which the spiritual and human are “synced”, with a nice dose of Thomistic moderation that cuts against the grain of our personal preferences.

Bishop Morlino is the bone marrow Churchman: courageous and firm, jovial and joyful, even if not perfect. Bishop Morlino always enjoyed a good argument from his opponents, and might even invite them for a drink or a meal with him. However, he would defend sacred doctrine without hesitation.

The Bishop was a tireless promoter of the priesthood to young men. Which of the young men today wouldn’t want to be a great Churchman, make the great sacrifices for Our Lord, preach the Gospel, and eventually die with people streaming to his hospital bed?

Obedient non-canonization

The Bishop will need our prayers in purgatory, and I mean that as he meant it. He would have it no other way.

With all of the scheduled Requiem Masses that I hope we can celebrate for him, through God’s grace and in the zeal of mercy that Pope Francis beautifully articulates, I hope Bishop Morlino quickly goes from Furnace #57 to Furnace #15.

So what were Bishop Morlino’s human frailties? I’ll give you two that he would readily admit. Firstly, I do wish he would have exercised more and watched his diet. We lost him too early at 71 years of age, and on a human level, how many of us would have loved to see him enjoy a healthy retirement of at least a few years!

Second, the Bishop was more in the ilk of his Italian grandmother with a warm charm rather than a Germanic administrator like me cranking out meetings, emails, and decrees. Maybe that’s why we worked so well together. But he could have been more “managerial” in the day-to-day administration of things.

However, to the Bishop’s credit, he always gave us clear and ready episcopal leadership in courage, strength, truth, and mercy. Granted, he left the execution and details to many of us as staff. He always was supportive of me to work on the “pockets” of need that exist in a diocese of our size (what Pope Francis would call the “margins”), such as migrant Masses at Cambria, managing the Hispanic Encuentro, working on the jail and prison apostolates, and seeing to the needs of the beloved Religious Sisters.

Bishop Morlino was known affectionately to us through the years as the Apostle of the Natural Law. He now becomes for us in death the Apostle of Purgatory, and may he now be granted the privilege from Our Lord to preach to the souls in purgatory the fullness of His Gospel in the sweet and purifying hopefulness of heaven.

Eternal rest grant unto Bishop Robert Morlino, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

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