Funeral Homily for Fr. George

Posted On September 5, 2014

Sacred Heart Home
Oregon, Ohio



by Gordon Judd, CSB, August 14, 2014

Not even three days ago, five of us were gathered around Father George’s bedside when he breathed his last at 4:03 PM. I am still in shock at his death even though I was present to witness his diminishment, frailty, and the shutting down of his circulation, his organs, and finally his lungs and his heart. Everything seemed to have occurred so quickly.

Driving back home to Detroit that Monday, I was puzzling about how swiftly he left us, when it struck me that I shouldn’t be surprised. Everything that George did was decisive and fast. Once he had made up his mind that something needed to be done, he was all in motion until it was accomplished. It’s clear to me now, George, that you were certain that it was time to leave us and to move on to the fullness of God’s loving embrace.

Without a doubt,Father George Kosicki is one of those rare individuals who could depart from us without leaving behind any unfinished business. He had done everything he needed to do to put his life in good order. I doubt that there were any relationships, especially broken relationships, that needed mending. I doubt that there was anyone he still needed to assure that they were loved. How many of us would be able to say as much today if we were called home to the Lord?

George was intimately involved with his religious community, the Congregation of St. Basil (or Basilian Fathers) for nearly 68 years. He first professed the three evangelical vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience August 15, 1947, and was ordained a priest June 29, 1954. Within the following sixteen years, he attained a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Michigan and became of professor of science at Assumption University, the University of Windsor, and UofM.

Touched by the Holy Spirit through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, he left a successful university career to devote himself full time to what he believed was God’s new call: to promote radical conversion or re-conversion among priests and bishops.

It was the late ‘60s, an unsettling time in the Church and within our own Basilian community. I was completing theological studies at that time at St. Basil’s Seminary in Toronto. At the end of second year theology — this would have been 1968 — our class of 15 had organized our annual 4-day retreat by asking four different Basilians each to spend a day with us providing spiritual insight. Although I had met George briefly on several previous occasions, this was the first time that I had really been exposed to him.
George’s message that day was a powerful wake-up call to me. I had never heard anyone — although I had been with the Basilians ten years at that point, I had never encountered any other Basilian or priest speak about God in such a personal way. His message was brilliantly clear: We are called to a deep personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

At this point George had been involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal for just about a year; nonetheless, it was clear that the Renewal had deeply touched him. He spoke that day about receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit and receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the gift of speaking in tongues. I was fascinated, I was attracted to what he was saying, but perhaps most of all, I was unnerved, because it led me to question even more deeply whether I was honestly and humbly pursuing this course toward priesthood. Hardly a day had gone by during my previous two years of theology when I wasn’t questioning whether I was a fit candidate for priesthood.

Hearing George’s witness — this was a word with a whole new meaning suddenly — I found myself interrogating my motives, my integrity, and above all my ability to see priesthood through to the end —not just through the day of ordination, but through to the day when I would — as George did this past Monday — be surrendering myself to God’s ultimate embrace.

Well, a year and half later, December 1969, I was ordained. Although George and I intersected a couple of times in the next four years, it wasn’t until the summer of 1974 that I experienced another conversion moment through his mediation. During that summer, I had the profound experience of participating in what George Kosicki and a good friend of his, Father Gerry Farrell, a Maryknoll missionary, organized and sponsored. It was called 40 Days of Intercession for Priests, held at what was still, at that time, St. John’s Major Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Two other Basilians here today, Fathers George Beaune and Bob Duggan, also participated.

For me the timing couldn’t have been more critical. I was very confused at that time about my vocation as a Basilian and a priest. Those 40 Days saved my vocation — of that I have no doubt.

A number of you here today know Father George Kosicki as the supreme author, speaker, and catechist for Divine Mercy. Last evening, in chapel, Jane Wilkinson, a resident here at Sacred Heart Home, and Vinny Flynn, a close friend and publishing colleague of George, testified to the transforming power of George’s books, teachings, and especially of his example of living out the message of Divine Mercy. For me, however, it is above all his teaching and example some years ago of three aspects of the spiritual journey:

1. The gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

2. Knowing Jesus Christ our Lord as my personal Savior.

3. The strength of intercessory prayer.

I have accordingly chosen three scripture readings in relationship to these aspects.

I realize that there are other scriptural texts that speak just as directly — even more directly — about the work of the Holy Spirit and the showering of the spiritual gifts. We could, for instance, have utilized First Corinthians in which St. Paul gives a beautiful, illustrative sweep of many of the spiritual gifts, such as healing, speaking in tongues, preaching, or prophesying. The verse from this passage that we heard Sr. Cecilia Mary proclaim from the Book of Revelations that I would pause upon is, 
”To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.”

If you recall the events depicted in Revelations you see the cosmic, eschatological conflict between the forces of good and evil, between Christ and Satan. In the process, we witness the martyrdom of those who have been faithful, who have washed their white robes in the blood of the Lamb, who is the Christ. These are those whom Revelations describes here as thirsty for the gift of life-giving water. I recall with immediacy and clarity how I felt 48 years ago, in 1968, listening to George Kosicki describe his baptism in the Holy Spirit, how he had drunk deeply from the spring of life-giving water, and I knew with certitude at that moment that I wanted to drink of this same water.

Whether George was writing, preaching, or teaching about the Charismatic Renewal, Marian devotion, or Divine Mercy, they were, as Vinny Flynn shared last evening, all of one piece. These were not isolated passages into a life of faith, but complimentary doorways into the same reality. What was always paramount for George is that we understand the truth of what Revelations reveals:

“The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Then he said, ‘Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me, ‘They are accomplished. I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.’”

God is indeed making all things new. Those of us who desire to be renewed, to be converted anew, need only rest on these words, “for they are trustworthy and true.”

As Father George Beaune and Father Bob Duggan can attest, a prayerful passage from chapter 3 of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians became the closing prayer of every day of those 40 Days of Intercession. We prayed this, in a special way, for all priests, deacons, and bishops. We prayed,

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
“To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” This is an intercessory prayer for these men of the cloth, most of whom were unknown to us during those forty days, a prayer that they would have a deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the primary gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus Christ to me and to you as a personal Savior.
 Knowing about or theologizing about God, being able to quote from the Catholic Catechism, or reciting from memory chapter and verse from the Bible are not what will enable us to hold fast when our faith is severely challenged. What will get us through is knowing Jesus Christ as “my personal Savior.”

This was the message that Father George never tired of teaching and preaching. Although he was an extremely brilliant intellect, although he had already situated himself as a more than accomplished academic in his chosen field of biochemistry (having published dozens of scholarly research articles, as his niece Kathy DeRonne last evening noted — including his research on pig enzymes), he put all this academic achievement and promise aside to witness to knowing Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and to exhort everyone, especially priests, to surrender to the Holy Spirit, who would lead them to likewise know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

What he became aware of early on in his ministry to priests (and bishops and deacons) is that he was confronting an extremely difficult audience at times. How does anyone penetrate the minds and hearts of those who are professional spiritual guides and sacramental mediators with a message that they have yet to surrender to the Holy Spirit and to come to know the personal love of the Lord? Very quickly, Father George perceived the need to emphasize intercessory prayer, and he chose for his scriptural text the raising of Lazarus, which we just heard from the gospel of St. John.

Listen again to these verses from that passage:

“And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him.’
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, ‘Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.’ And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’”

As many of us know, a central part of George’s personality and likewise his spirituality was his Polish ancestry. He was an enthusiastic Pole. I recall him saying with a twinkle in his blue eyes, “You can call me a Polach, but don’t call me a Polak!” He visited Poland several times. He could speak and read Polish.

Last Thursday, I attended the last Care Conference for him here at the Home. He was unable to attend because he was already bedridden at that time and suffering terrible tiredness or fatigue. During that meeting, I mentioned to the staff that when his niece Kathy DeRonne and two of her daughters had visited him just a couple days previously, he had asked them to speak to him in Polish. They were unable to do that, but they sang to him the Polish birthday song, “Sto lat.”

Following the meeting with staff, Roseanne and Ruth went into his room and sang “Sto lat.” When they finished, he asked them to sing it again, which they did. This time he attempted to join in with his thin, papery, barely audible voice.

I found this remarkable. Here was this incredibly intelligent, cerebral man who had published dozens of books and pamphlets and who had given retreats and workshops to priests and bishops all around the world — Korea, Latin America, Europe, and Japan — who craved the simple emotional connection to this Polish birthday song. It was as if he was retreating to the warmth and familiarity of his early life, the Kosicki hearth, where the primary language of his parents was Polish.

When George would speak about this short statement from John’s gospel, “And Jesus wept,” he would allude to the hand-carved, often primitive, wooden sculptures of the weeping Jesus that dotted the roadsides throughout Poland, even the post WWII Poland that lived under the atheistic yoke of Soviet communism.

And Jesus wept. In his teaching on intercessory prayer, George emphasized the critical importance of empathy, of caring about the person that we are praying for. If we love this person who is bound like Lazarus, or even if we love those who love the bound person (as Jesus loved Martha and Mary), then we are open to powerful, deeply felt emotions. We too may weep, just as in other situations we may rejoice. Certainly we will rejoice when a brother or sister is set free.

During those 40 Days of Intercession for Priests, we witnessed the miracle of being freed ourselves even as we prayed for others to be free. It is the will of God in our lives that we be unbound. In the mystery of God’s grace we are invited into God’s will and into God’s saving actions. Certainly a core message of Divine Mercy is the necessity of interceding for others. The prayer at each bead of the chaplet is:
”For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

This encapsulates the theology of intercessory prayer, viz., seeking, in this instance, mercy on the whole world, even as we are seeking mercy for ourselves. The one who prays is not only the agent calling God’s love, compassion, and power into the lives of the world, but also the subject of this same love, compassion, and power.

In the grand sweep of Father George’s renewal ministries, beginning in 1969 with his work within the Charismatic Renewal, through these various stages of Intercessory Prayer for priests, Marian Devotion, Divine Mercy, living for twelve years as a hermit within the Community of the Companions of Christ the Lamb, and terminating with his nearly 26 months as a resident here at Sacred Heart Home, what has always been at the core of his life and ministry is his own profound love for God and his deep, unwavering commitment to be used for God’s glory.

I’d like to end with one personal experience of my brother and confrere Father George Kosicki.

In June 2012, Father arrived from Sault Ste. Marie here at Sacred Heart Home — some 360 miles —courtesy of an ambulance, and strapped to a gurney. He was weak, very sick, and quite confused, and even dispirited. As he and I met over the next several months, I often affirmed his amazing spirit of trust and surrender, having given up the beautiful wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the settled and busy life of Oregon, Ohio. In addition, of course, he had lost his ability to move about on his own two legs —he was now wheelchair bound. Whereas he had spent twelve years living as a hermit in Paradise, Michigan, able to spend long hours in penetrating silence and quiet, he was now in a room where the door was always to be kept open, along a corridor where he was bothered by the chitchat of staff and other residents, and oftentimes the sounds of the monster TV outside his room that played on and on whether anyone was present to listen to it. Staff entered his room at all hours of the day and night.

He was a man who had lived most of those years from 1969 through 2012 in the company of other priests, or others who had the same commitment and concern for Divine Mercy, Marian devotions, or priestly renewal. Now he felt adrift in an institution where he was personally grieved that others did not seem to share the same passion and commitment for spiritual renewal — although he always made clear that the Little Sisters of the Poor did understand and share this commitment!

As the subject arose at almost every visit that we had for the first six months or so, I would ask him to reflect on what he thought God was asking of him at this point. Last evening, Father Joe, the chaplain here at the Home, reflected on how George finally relinquished his insistence that he be allowed to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in his room. He was able to do this because in prayer, reflection, and in conversation with his spiritual director, he became convinced that God was demanding from him obedience.

When George and I talked about his struggle with the distractions, noise, and interruptions he experienced and how these were such a burden to his desire to continue living a kind of eremitical or monastic life, and when I asked him what he thought God was asking from him, he answered that he believed that God was asking for the sacrifice of his will or as the Psalmist would say, “a contrite heart.” When he was able to see that God was inviting him to embrace this as a sacrifice, he was able then to find peace, and finally able to call Sacred Heart his home!

For this reason, the greatest witness that he has given me are these last two years of his life. This world-renowned preacher, author, televised teacher, and spiritual guru, Father George Kosicki, became for me the Christ of Gethsemani, “Not my will, Lord, but yours be done,” and the bereft and battered Jesus of Calvary, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Dear George, all of us here today commend your spirit to the God you have so dearly loved. Thank you for every lesson, large or small, that you taught us of God’s wondrous love.

Go sign the memorial page for Fr. George by clicking HERE.

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  • The goal, the destination, or the purpose [of our life] is the encounter with God ... who desires to restore us ... ~ Pope Francis