Habakkuk 3:2-4, 13a, 15-19
We are gathered in this holy place to grieve the death of a good man. A man who was a physician par excellence and one of the great teachers of consultation psychiatry in the U.S.--if not the world-- particularly for those who had the privilege of being trained by him over the past almost forty years. We grieve a brother Jesuit who was an exemplary one . . . in his own way. We grieve the end of a remarkable life. But we rejoice in the beginning of an even more remarkable new life in, and with, Christ.
Death always comes as a surprise no matter when it occurs, be it suddenly as the result of trauma or acute illness or, as was true for George, at the end of a long life and an increasingly difficult medical course. None of us, even the physicians here, ever gets used to the death of another. We never become inured to the sense of finality and loss. We never escape the deep-seated fear and awe of death that defines the human condition. But, we are also blessed in the promise of eternal life fulfilled in the birth, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
The two readings and the Gospel explain different facets of George Bradshaw Murray, SJ, MD. They illuminate our faith.
The first reading from the Book of Habakkuk describes the lives of those who gradually watch everything they have and hold diminish and disappear. The last part of the reading, sometimes called the Psalm of Habakkuk, is a psalm for the elderly. It describes the stripping away of vigor, vitality, self-sufficiency and independence until only the inner strength given by God remains.
George's losses piled up over the past two years. There were no fig trees or herds in the stall to be sure, even in Cleveland. But there were analogous losses, one of the most painful of which was his vision and all that being legally blind entailed. The return drive from the optometrist in Waltham was made in dead silence. George knew before the optometrist told him that his driving days were over as of that moment. For a man who sometimes made his annual retreat by driving without plan for five days it was a painful blow. He never mentioned it again. He never asked to drive again. But the pain of that loss went deep. It went very deep.
As other losses followed, and they came with breathtaking speed over the past several months, George allowed the boundaries of his world to gradually constrict. It was painful to watch but like the sign that hung in his office at Mass General whining was strictly forbidden.
It would be easy to give a very long, multi-part homily about George using the second reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans.
"I bid you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think."
George was a truly humble man. Few know of all of his accomplishments, except for those on the football field or behind the drums--and these were most likely heavily embroidered. Bragging was not part of who he was. That was most apparent the night of his retirement party at MGH.
He didn't want to go. He REALLY didn't want to go. HIs anxiety in the car during the drive to MGH in peak Boston rush hour traffic was palpable. The silence was not comfortable. The trip back at around 11 PM was remarkable. He repeated, "I'm overwhelmed" at least a dozen times in a voice that confirmed that he was, in fact, overwhelmed. The bluster, the swagger, the essential "Murrayness" was gone. It was the voice of a man who finally knew what his life, who knew what his Jesuit vocation, his learning and his teaching meant to others. Many others. At last, one could say to him, "George, finally, you get it, and you git it."
"So we, though many, are one body in Christ . . . having gifts that differ, according to the graces given to us let us use them."
We all have the vocation to use the skills and gifts given to us by God to the fullest. George did that in ways most men can only fantasize. He ministered. He taught. He exhorted--he really exhorted, at times at very high volume--and he contributed. He also loved more sincerely than most.
His skills as diagnostician, teacher, and psychotherapist were legendary. Those skills were hard won. He did the heavy lifting because he knew that the gifts he was given were not to be wasted. And he wouldn't allow his trainees to waste their gifts either. He took extraordinary care of them.
One of the tenets of Ignatian prayer is to imaginatively insert oneself into a particular Gospel passage and participate in it in as much detail as possible, paying attention to those nearby, how things feel, what one hears and so on. So now, imagine the Gospel reading just proclaimed. Stand among the disciples and listen to the dialogue. But, take out Peter and put George in his place.
Jesus: George, do you love me more than these?
George: Yes, Lord, you know I love you.
Jesus: Feed my lambs
Jesus: George, do you love me?
George: Yes Lord, you know I love you.
Jesus: Tend my sheep.
And a third time.
Jesus: George, do you love me?
I'm not sure George's response to being asked the same question for the third time would have been quite as patient as Peter's. It probably would have been more of a rant than a reassurance. Not wanting to put words into George's mouth I will leave that part to your imaginations.
But . . . George Bradshaw Murray, of the Society of Jesus, M.D. lived Jesus' command "Feed my lambs" "Tend my sheep" with every fiber of his being. This is how he loved. He wasn't ostentatiously pious about it, but whether one was among the 102 fellows whose names are inscribed on the plaque that stood near his coffin, whether you were one of his patients, one of the residents or students, whether you were a colleague or one of his fellow Jesuits who quietly asked, "Murray, can I talk to you for a few minutes?" he took this mandate seriously.
A few weeks before he picked me up at Logan and dropped me off at the Jesuit novitiate in Jamaica Plain, we were sitting in his tiny office at MGH crammed with books and other faja sipping on some single malt. He got serious and asked, "What's my favorite prayer?" Always the former fellow I assumed the fellows' position without being told to and admitted I did not know. He spun around, pulled out a battered file and rummaged through it for a moment.
He handed me an old photocopy of a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. It was a prayer that I would encounter within days of entering. It is a prayer that many Jesuits pray daily. It is a prayer that defined George's life as a Jesuit, a physician, and a man. It is on the back of his memorial card. It summarizes his life. It summarizes a vocation accepted and lived in his way. It summarizes how George understood the reading from Habakkuk, how he lived Paul's description of vocation, and how he did precisely what Jesus ordered Peter to do:
O Lord, teach me to be generous
To serve you as you deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labor and not to ask for reward
Save that of knowing
I do your holy will.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD