Thursday, February 21, 2019: Our Order’s friars of the General Houses, representatives of various tribunals of the Holy See, friends and colleagues gathered at Santi Apostoli Basilica to remember +Fr. Donald Kos, OFM Conv., one year after his death, in the light of his lifetime service to the General Curia and to the Holy See. Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, OFM Conv., +Friar Donald’s long-time colleague and Regent Emeritus of the Apostolic Penitentiary, presided at the Eucharistic liturgy. Apostolic Major Penitentiary Cardinal Mauro Piacenza JCD was scheduled to preside, but had to cancel at the last moment, due to illness. Below is his homily, which was read by Friar Robert Leżohupski, OFM Conv., +Friar Donald’s successor at the Apostolic Penitentiary and a Member of the General Procuration, in which the Cardinal praised +Friar Donald as one who “thought, acted and lived under the light of God,” someone in whose work at the Tribunal “always sought both the glory of God and the care of souls with justly merciful criteria, both attentive to the particulars of the case and to the wider context.”
Homily – Eucharistic Celebration
One-Year Anniversary of the Death of +Fr. Donald
(Rome, February 21, 2019, Basilica of XII Apostles)
Translated by Our Lady of the Angels Province friar, Fr. Timothy Kulbicki, OFM Conv.
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza
Liturgical Texts: Genesis 9:1-13 and Mark 8: 27-33
Today’s Gospel presents us with an instructive contrast.
St. Peter, inspired by the Father, recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, the Chosen of God. Almost immediately afterwards Peter opposes the divine plan by reproving Jesus for speaking about his suffering, rejection and death, such that Jesus severely rebukes him: “Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.” How difficult it is to be continuously under God’s light!
St. Peter, happy to have proclaimed Jesus as the Christ and sure of doing so by divine inspiration, certainly believed to be acting under that same inspiration in opposing Jesus’ teaching. One can easily find any number of arguments against such a vision of a Messiah, who must suffer, be rejected, and be killed. It would not be very difficult to show that such things cannot be part of God’s plans.
The first reading presents us with the covenant with Noah, in which God expressly forbids the shedding of blood: “From one person in regard to another I will demand an accounting for human life.” It is therefore not the will of God that someone be killed. By reasoning a bit one can arrive at the conclusion that it was not the will of God that Jesus be killed. You may also point to the prophecies that present the Messiah as someone who will triumph over all his enemies and reign gloriously forever. This is the plan of God! St. Peter had more than enough arguments for rebuking Jesus and telling him that he was introducing a perspective not part of God’s plan: the Son of Man suffering, being rejected by the scribes and the high priests and being killed, apparently did not fit into God’s plan.
But Jesus is completely docile to the plans of God: he knows how to choose which Scriptures are apt for every situation, and how to understand every situation. He recognized from the Scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer (look at Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the Suffering Servant, or the Christ-figures like Abel, Moses, and Joseph). God does not wish death, God does not wish betrayal, but he takes the world as it is. Because the human heart tends to evil, God decided to triumph over evil by assuming it and transforming it with the strength of love. Therefore Jesus could say to Peter: “You do not think in God’s ways but man’s.” It can happen to us as well to begin with a light coming from God but arrive at an end of human perspectives.
It is vital to remain very docile to God and to be attentive to not add human things to His inspirations. Unfortunately we often reason based on our own psychology and human impulses, finding many justifications along the way for that which is merely our own natural inclinations. We can be very rigid, and convince ourselves that we are only doing God’s will; on the other hand, we can be easy-going and convince ourselves that we are imitating the great mercy of God. We must always be attentive and docile to the Spirit of the Lord, seeking to do His will at every moment, avoiding self-delusions. Let us ask the Lord for such docility to follow His will without adding anything of our own, without fear of the difficulties, without departing from the company of Jesus, even when that entails suffering and humiliation.
Fr. Donald, in his generous and professional service to the Holy See, especially at the Apostolic Penitentiary, was in the right place. He fits well within this brief reflection on the Liturgy of the Word. He thought, acted, and lived under the light of God! In his official judgments on the many and wide-ranging cases that daily arrive at the Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary, he always sought both the glory of God and the care of souls with justly merciful criteria, both attentive to the particulars of the case and to the wider context.
I would say that Fr. Donald had the sense of God! While we are not here to eulogize our dear brother but to pray for his eternal rest, we do so with great affection as we try to better ourselves, as we seek to see the things which the Lord wishes to tell us by means of his life.
Fr. Donald received a solid theological formation before his juridical one. Since the juridical one came after the theological one, logically even the juridical became spiritual. By fixing his gaze squarely upon God, in his eternal laws which regulate the world and all of creation, he always avoided the temptation “to live and let live” or to look for a comfortable conformism, both in the difficult post-conciliar years as well as those which came later but were still no easier. The Absolute, with its infinitude ad extra and with its co-eternal norms, was his life criterion, from the observance of which norms flows order, justice, peace, serenity, and that common sense which always characterized him. Just as a mirror reflects images of otherwise unreachable reality, Fr. Donald found in God an entire universe in its varied aspects, with its needs and difficulties for sure, but also with every indication needed for human progress and happiness.
By meeting and judging every eventuality with eternal and unchanging truth, he was able to make pronouncements on an infinity of questions with the security of someone who draws from God the infallible criterion of judgment, sure not of himself but of God, and for this reason incapable of compromise.
By freeing his office of any kind of conceptual aridity, he found in eternal truth the way for his life. This is seen in the fact that every one of his sentences, every one of his opinions, every one of his pronouncements as precise as they were essential, always carried this trademark. He was always in line with God, and when the case called for it, he was always coherent regarding the language of the cross, never easy but always opportune, and under which “the night becomes clear as day.”
Since God was for him the true reference point for everything, Fr. Donald lived the presence of God in a singular way. He made a point of saying “to live the presence of God,” not “to live in the presence of God.” To live “in the” presence of God, beneath his gaze, is to feel oneself the object of both attention and concern, but above all of judgment. It is certainly a wise counsel to remember that God sees us and that nothing escapes his gaze, but the feeling that comes from that is still fear, no matter how holy it might be! To live “the” presence of God, on the other hand, establishes a personal relationship that leads to intimacy and love. To fear God is the beginning of wisdom, but to love Him is the foundation of wisdom itself.
In the regular give-and-takes with Fr. Donald, which in any case always resolved themselves, one came to understand that he clearly grasped in a very Franciscan manner that with God, the smallest things, even the sharpest of them, mean something. With Him nothing is useless or insignificant. In Him “the great and the small are alike.” We share in this incarnation of the divine, without even being able to theoretically explain it: it overturns the parameters of our judgment, it changes our ways of thinking, it fills up our solitude, it makes us believe in the value of things hidden, it provides certainty even against the headwind of uncertainty. God is light, the true light which grants immeasurable value to whatever the human person does in order to temper a person for infinity.
Those who live the presence of God like Fr. Donald did, understand the meaning of simplicity of life, poverty, the fatigue of work, and finally both suffering and death: all is colored by the Paschal Mystery.
Fr. Donald had a clear conviction that God is not beyond any act that we perform or that God is not some kind of disinterested spectator, but rather that God is within what we do, day in and day out of our lives. He is the Eternity which fills all time with Himself; He is the Immensity which is not beyond the place where we currently find ourselves. Fr. Donald knew how to see his life as a mystery, as something filled with infinity because it is filled with God. He experienced in his life the truism that the one who only seeks things will always be suffocated by them, while the one who finds God is infinitely enlightened and fully breathes with both lungs.
By reflecting upon these things one can understand the world Fr. Donald inhabited, and what interior movements might be possible for someone, even in the midst of everyday things.
Did not Jesus tell us: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be?”
Dear Fr. Donald, we pray that you might be with your Treasure for all of blessed eternity, but we also ask you to pray that those of us down here might walk daily both with our feet on the ground and with our heart above where our Treasure is.