“The Visitation” by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS
A homily for the Mass celebrating the life of Phillip Richard Marti (1948-2014), May 31, 2014.
Though today is (for us) the Feast of Phillip Marti, in the wider Church, today is also a feast day. It is the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The day marks the occasion when Mary, having learned that she is pregnant, does what is probably the only thing she can think to do: she visits her cousin Elizabeth. And while Mary gets all the attention in the story, it’s Elizabeth who plays a primary, if not crucial role. It is Elizabeth’s own faith and experience that allows her to see God’s hand in this situation. It’s Elizabeth who names Mary “Blessed.” “Blessed are you among women,” she says, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” It is Elizabeth’s voice that gives Mary the courage, the faith, and the hope to find her own voice. With Elizabeth’s encouragement, Mary can sing her song, Magnificat, the song that continues to be sung by all who seek a bit of Mary’s courage and hope.
I think of Elizabeth’s voice of encouragement and empowerment on this Feast of the Visitation, because I’ve been thinking a lot about another voice: the voice of Phil Marti. Most of this parish knew Phil primarily through that booming, deep, colorful voice as he read scripture, as he exchanged a word of peace, as he offered his own version of encouragement and hope.
Whenever it was Phil’s turn to read scripture at a Sunday Mass, the room fell silent. This was a man to be listened to. And as he read, one realized that he was reading in such a way as to convey his own faith. And that faith was infectious.
Phil maintained had that voice and that faith until the very end. In the last few months of his life, he still had it. And it was a voice that carried with it humor, gratitude, and hope. He could be disarmingly funny—whether it was telling stories about his working days, or his years at All Souls, or talking about some of you—friends and family. Phil never stopped being grateful. Knowing the in’s and out’s of healthcare reform, he was grateful for the care he was getting and showed incredible kindness and patience to the nurses, doctors, and aides who moved around him. He was so grateful for family. Just as I know his family must have been grateful when he moved home to take care of his parents, he was grateful for the visits, the calls, the emails, the prayers—all that family and friends did for him. He felt surrounded by people. He felt enlivened by your voices.
As Phil had surgeries and dealt with increasing complications, and as he would talk about the seriousness of his various diagnoses, I was tempted to think he was living with a bit of denial. I probably would have responded very differently. But the more I listened to him – to that voice—I heard an honesty and a courage that was up to facing reality. Even more, I heard a hope that was based in faith.
Phil knew the Bread of Life and was sustained by him. He knew that God always has been and always will be the source of what nourishes, what sustains, and what gives the resonance and reason to all that we are. Phil has been raised up. He has lost nothing but gained everything. And I have no doubt that his booming, beautiful voice is laughing, telling stories, and singing stronger than ever. I can easily see him in a heavenly choir, gossiping with Mary and Elizabeth, catching up with old friends from the Gay Men’s Chorus, with family and loved ones who died long ago. The music there must really be something.
Perhaps on a quiet day, in prayer, we might catch a few notes of their song. With faith and hope in the resurrection, may we keep hearing voices and giving thanks.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.