Died: + May 14, 2002
Eulogy given by married priest Joseph McOscar at burial service
For as long as people have lived and gathered and rejoiced and grieved, there are stories to be told. This thought has been with me since last Tuesday when Patricia told me that Bob had passed away. Everyone's story deserves to be heard and taken seriously because it is that person's story ... it is real. To reject a person's story is to reject that person. To know a person's story is to, above all, understand that person. And so it is with our friend, our brother, Bob.
The story and the life that Bob Flanagan would weave began in Chicago in 1925. It would appear that the family into which he was born was one of commitment, endurance, a firm faith and a strong sense of service. It was out of that nurturing that Bob and another of his siblings eventually entered seminary to study and prepare for the Catholic priesthood. Ordained in 1952 - 50 years ago next month, Bob first served in ministry in Chicago and in Wisconsin. Some few years later he entered the service as a military chaplain. Eventually he came to the old Valley Forge Military Hospital as chaplain. During his time there he had the great good fortune of meeting a young woman on staff. What began as an acquaintanceship grew into friendship which grew into love. Patricia and Robert married in 1967 - 35 years ago.
Since, in the eyes of the institutional church, a wife now made Bob a flawed priest, his story now took a different turn. He needed to seek new and different employment and reorient himself to become a loving husband and father, care-giver and care-sharer. He went back to school at Temple University and there obtained graduate credentials in educational counseling. He worked for the School District of Philadelphia and from there for the Department of the Navy in Washington. After retiring in the late nineties, he and Patricia moved here to Hershey's Mill.
For myself and many of you, that's when we first encountered Bob.
When a person passes away, we begin to tell that person's story. That's what has been happening since last week when Bob's life-story was beginning to pass before the eyes of the mind. It was all being laid out before us and by us, with its joys and its sorrows, its successes and its failures.
But Bob had gotten the jump on us and had anticipated the telling of the story in a letter which he wrote, I believe in March, and shared with me. I am thankful that I saved it because I would like to share some of it with you this morning.
'Thirty-five years ago I began what has been a very happy marriage. At the same time I ended a phase of my life for which I had worked, studied, and sacrificed. I was, and am, a Catholic priest. But marriage meant...I could no longer function publicly as a priest.
'I promised celibacy because I wanted more than anything else to be a priest. I figured that the priesthood was worth it. Some years later I began to change my mind - about celibacy (not the priesthood).
'As a service chaplain...I was learning that my crowded life was actually lonely. I was busy and I loved it, but I had no one with whom to share my thoughts, my plans, or even to listen to my moments of triumph or my frustrations. I was alone and now I knew it.
'After some time I committed the'sin' that will not be forgiven: in one of the best moves of my life I married a wonderful woman. I didn't steal money from the parish funds, I didn't abuse children, and I didn't have an affair with the choir director, male or female. If I had done any of those things I'd be transferred or promoted, but not kicked out. Getting married was good for me and in the course of years good for the Church that was spared a frustrated old bachelor.
'This was a carefully reasoned decision, involving consultation, contemplation, and prayer.
'For the past few years Pope John Paul has apologized for the Church's conduct to many people. Apparently papal apologies are reserved for those who don't threaten the Church's power structure. We married priests don't need an apology; all we want is a kind word - a word of welcome.
'Who is being punished? Many of us are in active ministry, acting as chaplains and counselors, baptizing, burying, officiating at weddings, and providing the sacraments to the sick. We have our families, our children and grandchildren, and we have the delight of working with the People of God. On the other hand, parishes are being deprived of Sunday liturgy, the sick are not visited, and people are uncomfortable with the perceived sexual orientation of their priest.
'Rather than revolutionaries, we were ' ahead of our time'. Our 'crime' really wasn't so bad after all.
Bob's path, Bob's story, crossed my path in 1999 when Patricia and he moved here to Hershey's Mill. I'm not sure who contacted whom first but the reason ultimately was a shared sense of priesthood and to be the healing, forgiving, reconciling hand of Christ reaching out to people who felt rejected by the institution for any number of reasons. Bob, over the years of his marriage to Patricia, was undoubtedly priest to her, to Susan, and to everyone he encountered. But his love for God and for God's People, his priestly love, nurtured and enriched by family life was looking to be shared also sacramentally. And so he took up once again the charge he had received almost fifty years before - to preach, to teach, to sanctify.
And he did it well over those few short years. I began to cover for him as his health declined and in each situation where I was subbing for him, the people were genuinely moved to pray for him and to wish him well. They spoke glowingly of their meetings with him. He had once again come home, this time in hand with Patricia.
We would speak often over the course of the week and he would describe the ceremonies over which he presided with heartfelt care and concern. He became friends with people of other faith traditions, learning from them and respecting them. One of his friends, Rabbi Richard Allen, was genuinely distressed over Bob's passing. He had to be out of town this week; otherwise he had expressed a desire to be present for this Mass and to sing a beautiful rendition of the 23rd Psalm. It was a disappointment for Patricia that this could not have happened because Richard, before he became a rabbi, was an accomplished Opera singer.
Two events in the last six months stand out in my mind as having been defining moments for Bob. The first was towards the end of 2001. He and Patricia piggy-backed myself and my wife when we were assigned as chaplains on the Celebrity ship, Zenith. Bob was elated at once again being able to celebrate Eucharist publicly, surrounded by God's People and in company with Patricia. What a magnificent witness to the integrity of his priesthood.
The second significant moment came during the winter month of February. It was the birth of Susan's child, Patrick. The birth of Bob's grandson. I remember the sheer delight in his voice as he shared with me her safe delivery that day. And how he couldn't wait to get to New York to see his grandson for the very first time. It must have been quite a sight the first time he lifted the child in his arms.
Now, here we are today, very much in the shadow of Tuesday afternoon, May 14. Yet Bob's story has not - will not - end there.
For Jesus takes up the story where Bob has been left off. It is Jesus who opens our minds to the fact that the cross, far from being the end of the dream, the end of the story, is paradoxically the very means by which the dream is realized. "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer and so enter into glory?"
Through His story our eyes are opened and we are able to recognize Him. The one who had died was alive. So death does not have the last word in the stories we tell. "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" Each story, Bob's story in all of its intricate weaving, has a brighter ending than any of us could ever imagine.
Every human story is the story of a journey. Jesus is with us on the journey, even though we may not recognize Him, even though there is at times only one set of footprints in the sand. He is so close to us, so intimate, that each of our stories merges with His.
When all is said and done, it is only Jesus's story that makes sense of ours. The resurrection of Jesus opens all of our stories, and Bob's story, to the prospect, not just of a happy ending, but of a glorious ending.
The last word in his story, in each of our stories, belongs ultimately to God.
Patricia, you were married to a wonderful man, a real priest, a real prophet. As he said in his letter, he was ahead of his time. And Susan, make certain that Patrick knows what a truly wonderful man his grandfather was. Teach him to imitate him in his service to others.
He was not an extraordinary man summoned to a higher calling but rather an ordinary man summoned to a special calling. That calling was to be authentic priest, loving husband and father, dotting grandfather, esteemed friend and confidant. That's quite enough of a legacy for anyone to cherish. MAY HE REST IN PEACE