Gratitude for priestly service —building churches and the Church…
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the funeral Mass for Msgr. Edmond Whyte, pastor of St. Mark Church in Southwest Ranches, who died after 51 years of priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of Miami.
(Miami) – “And Jesus wept.” Just as Jesus wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus, we too weep at the passing of this man who was a brother, an uncle, a pastor, a counselor, a friend to us who grieve. Grieve we must — for grief is the pain of letting go and entrusting him to the arms of a loving and merciful God.
This local Church, the Archdiocese of Miami, is grateful to the Whyte family for the gift of this man, who like so many of his countrymen, came from Ireland to minister here in Florida. His sister, her husband and their children also live here in Florida and they will carry him back to Ireland to be buried, as he requested, alongside his beloved parents. Our deepest condolences to his flesh and blood family; but also condolences to his parish family here at St. Mark’s. He was truly a Father to all of you.
Every person’s life is lived under the sign of the Cross. Experience shows, especially when that experience is interpreted in the light of the wisdom that age gives, experience shows that life’s difficulties, by God’s grace, contribute to people’s growth and the forging of their character.
From adversity comes a light that can brighten the years of old age for as St. John Chrysostom said: tribulations not only do not destroy hope, they are its foundation. Msgr. Whyte, who battled cancer for more than a decade — without complaining and barely missing a day of work — gave us a witness to hope, a witness of priestly integrity and the joy that comes from walking through this life as a friend of Jesus.
St. John Eudes once said: “…the greatest effect of God’s mercy, the most precious grace He bestows upon mankind, is to send worthy priests, men after His own heart, seeking only His glory and the salvation of souls.”
As priests we touch and influence people — for good or for ill — in ways that we may never be aware of, at least on this side of eternity. Msgr. Whyte was one of those worthy priests; and, I hope that now, from his side of eternity, he is aware of the influence for good that he had in the lives of so many people here in the Archdiocese of Miami and beyond. In his 51 years as a priest, he shepherded three parishes.
In each parish he built a church but more importantly in each parish he built the Church, for his work was about more than brick and mortar, it was more than about administration and paying bills, his work was about the People of God, it was about touching their souls, healing their hearts, and praying for their needs. His was a ministry to service, not of celebrity. And he ministered faithfully and with humility — nothing he did was about himself, it was always about the Lord.
Every priest here is privileged to serve God and his people — as Eddy was — in this awesome vocation of the holy priesthood. And even though we carry this treasure in the “earthen vessels” of our frail humanity and sinfulness, it is a holy priesthood because as “other Christs” we share in our Lord’s own high priesthood through our ministry of Word and Sacrament. God uses imperfect instruments to work his will so that we will know that it is He who saves and not we.
There is a special bond that unites us, priests, to Msgr. Edmond Whyte, a priestly bond of solidarity and communion. This special bond is “stronger than death” — for we were ordained like Melchisedek of old, priests forever.
We, priests, know our own human frailty, and so we are not shy in asking your prayers for him — and when we die, we beg your prayers for us, confident that the love of Jesus Christ who gave us the gift of the priesthood is stronger than death.
Our priestly lives and ministries — like that of Msgr. Whyte — are forever linked to the sacred history of salvation lived out in this local Church of Miami. Shortly after being ordained a priest in Ireland for the service of Miami 51 years ago, he came to South Florida and served this Archdiocese under each of its four archbishops. He watched the Archdiocese of Miami grow, but through his priestly ministry he helped direct and shape its growth.
The Paschal Candle stands beside the coffin at every Mass of Christian burial — just as it stands by the font at baptisms. Five grains of incense represent the five wounds of Christ. Those five grains in the form of a cross are framed by the Greek letters, Alpha and Omega, symbolizing Christ — our beginning and our end.
When the candle is lit after the blessing of the new fire on Holy Saturday evening, the priests prays — as Father Whyte prayed the many times he celebrated the Easter Vigil: “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” The words of St. Paul also comfort us: “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also rise with him.”
We priests are obliged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. Msgr. Whyte took this obligation seriously. Those who were able to visit him at the hospital, as I did a few days before he passed, would have seen at his side his breviary. His sister told me that he would visit her family on his day off and once she asked her daughter, “What’s your uncle doing?” She replied. “Oh, he’s sitting over here reading his ‘priest book’”. Well, the “priest book” suggests a reading from St. Braulio, bishop of Saragossa, for the Office for the Dead. Faith assures us, St. Braulio tells us in that reading, that just as Christ is not dead, we too shall not die.
“The hope of resurrection encourages us because we shall see again those whom we lose here below.” He reminds us that as baptized Catholics — and most certainly as ordained priests — “we do not belong to ourselves; we belong to the one who redeemed us. Our will should always depend on his. For this reason we say in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Thy will be done.’ Confronted with death, the sentiments of Job should be our own: ‘The Lord gave and the Lord took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!’” (St. Braulio, Office of the Dead)