Father Richard Milligan was one of my Pastors growing up, and I would consider him a mentor regarding my priesthood. His example of leadership, serving people and how to treat the most marginal gave me an insight into being a priest and for that I am grateful. Father Milligan lost his mother early in his life, and I came to see how much that pained him throughout his life. Those who knew and loved him would say that he really never got over the death of his mother. Yet, I also knew that for him, his mother was still alive for him in many ways.
As a teen serving funerals with him and as a seminarian assisting him with those funerals, Father Milligan would end each funeral with these words: “Heavenly Father, we give him/her back to you as you once gave him/her to us, and just as you did not lose him/her in the giving, so we don’t lose him/her by his return to you.”
I forgot those words until the day I was asked to preach at his funeral. His parish staff reminded me of those words he spoke at the funerals in which he presided. Ever since that day, I have used the same words at the very end of every funeral. I do so as a reminder that for Father Milligan, the grief at the physical loss of his mother was very real, yet she was kept alive in his mind, heart and soul. These words give me such comfort to know that for all of those who have died, we are still connected by the love of God.
The month of November is a traditional time in our Church of remembering all those who have died. In the remembering of their lives, they remain alive with us on earth, even as, at the same time, they experience the new eternal life with God.
My favorite words in our Eucharistic Prayer at funerals are these: “give kind admittance to your Kingdom.” To stand before the Lord and utter these words on behalf of our loved ones who have died are prayers that God desires to hear from each of us.
I hope that parishioners who read this article will also consider these words from Father Milligan’s funeral Masses – that we do not lose our loved ones in their return to God.
Peace in Christ,