Homily From Funeral Mass for Br. Tim Tomczak, osc
Homily given by Fr. Kermit Holl, osc, filial prior of the Crosier Community of Onamia
On May 22nd of this year, only five months ago, we Crosiers had a meeting specifically to speak with Timothy about his health, his prognosis and his treatment plan. At that time it was becoming fairly clear that the world of medicine had done about all that it could do to push back the debilitating effects of Tim’s multiple myeloma, and he was at a crossroads. I asked him whether he would like to speak with us to share that chemotherapy was no longer working, nor radiation treatments, and that he was having thus to think about either a T-cell transplant…or just the approaching end of his life.
Indeed, Tim did wish to speak with us about both of these realities, and so we had that meeting. In it, Timothy let us know that he was ready to consider his life not in terms of quantity but quality. While he would loved to have gotten the benefit of the T-cell transplant, he also had to admit that this was a Hail Mary pass and one not thought to be too ripe for success according to his doctor. And so Tim decided to let Sister Death be his next stop on the journey.
This was, of course, a most wrenching decision for Tim, for, as you know, he was one who loved life. Of course we all do in our own way, but Tim had that extra zeal and desire and energy that had carried him along far and wide--literally from Moose Lake to Nebraska to New York to Rome, and in his distinct engagement and simple enjoyment of all those he met along the way and all the adventures he shared wherever he ended up finding himself. From Ma and Pa Kettle Days to a papal audience in St. Peter’s square, Tim would meet someone he either knew or would come to know, and soon-enough he’d have another friend’s name scribbled on a torn piece of paper so that he could stay forever after in contact. (His room and office were filled with such treasured connections to people, but they weren’t too well organized!)
As Timothy spoke with us that day, he shared some lines from a poem titled “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver. “When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” And then he asked us to help him picture what his legacy might be upon his passing—what difference he would have made by having lived among us over the course of his 65 years.
Of course, confreres were happy to share with Tim the different ways that he had touched their lives by his kindness, and his tenderness, and his goodness. He was blessed to hear people affirm that they really loved him and that they admired the hard work that he had done over the years in vocation recruitment and serving the Order wherever he was asked—from Harlem to Rome. And then it was all summed up by Fr. Glen saying very specifically something like, “Brother. Brother sums up the offering of your life and who you have been to us. You have been our brother—relational and loving and generous and faithful. That’s the legacy of your life, flowing so naturally from the deepest part of your being and being your gift to the world.”
Of course, we Crosiers have been blessed with Tim’s fraternity with us across 35 years, but the children of Celia and Theodore Tomczak were blessed by Timothy’s “big brother-ness” all their lives. He was your point-man and example and guide, a big shoulder to lean on, a warm heart in which to find solace, with massive hands not unafraid of work and labor.
And all of this, Tim came to wrap in faith as he said many times that he had learned from Fr. Jerry Schik years before that we should be “Eucharistic people, thanking and giving.” And so Tim chose this vision to become the energy and focus of his baptismal and religious calling—to be a thankful and giving person. And we can all nod even today and say, “Yes. He made it. That’s who he was.”
The scriptures we heard today confirm this, scriptures chosen for us by Timothy, as he says through the words of Job, “No matter the trial, I know that my redeemer lives. My redeemer whom I shall see. And so to see him consumes my inmost being with longing.” Such was the conviction of Tim’s faith whenever heading out to parts unknown from Carlton County, or praying in the African American Catholic community in Harlem, or surrendering to the inevitable pull of a cancer that was consuming him from inside out. Yet, even in this, even in his battle with his disease for almost a decade, Tim could confirm the words of St. Paul written to that other Timothy, the one of the 1st Century, that “Though I am chained in this battle not unlike a criminal, the Word of God is not chained. Therefore, I do indeed trust that even as we have to die with him, if we persevere, we shall also reign with him. This is the Gospel I bear” (2 Timothy 2:9-12).
Wrapped in such faith, faith that was strong and large and determined, overlain by the Crosier Religious Habit and our charism of ancient spirit, Tim could also then rest in the consoling words of Christ captured in the voice of John’s Gospel (John 14:1), “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith. God keeps care for you. Where I am you will also be.”
To this, Tim could say “Amen.” Now forever, but even on the way--whatever the turn and whatever the horizon. “Amen. Amen.” For Jesus was his way and his truth and his life. And our brother modeled just this way of living for us all the time.
Well, let me rephrase that. MOST of the time. There was a day back in 2003 when Tim and I were both living in our priory in Shoreview, and I was prior. While generally I could count on Tim to laugh at my jokes, even though Tom Carkhuff, his PROVINCIAL would say, “Tim, don’t laugh, you only encourage him.” Tim would say, “Well, sometimes encouragement is good.” Anyway, after a particular tough meeting that our community had, I attempted some off-hand humorous remark, but Timothy wasn’t having it. That time, instead of laughing, he said (and we have witnesses), “Sometimes I just want to punch you right in the face!” Imagine his big mitt on this gentle face. There could have been some real damage! The old Code of Canon Law used to call for instant excommunication for battery of one’s religious superior, but they had removed that canon by then. (You have to wonder why!) But I wasn’t sure whether Timothy knew that, so I sat at the far end of the table at dinner that night just to be on the safe side. Thankfully, by the next day Tim was humoring me once again. (True—mostly.)
Since he died last week, my image of Tim is that of one very busy walking through heaven catching up with all those he knows there and greeting each one with great zeal and warmth. “Oh, hello, hello!” he says. “Oh, you’re our old neighbor. Your daughter and my sister went to kindergarten together. Oh, I remember when you sold your farm and my third cousin on my father’s side bought it. Your mother was a Woitalla but she married a Dombrowski. Oh, there you are…Mom and Dad, and Tom and Albert, and Clem and Adrian, and Neil and Phil and Gus. We were just talking about you back home! And here you are, and here I am again with you. How true, how true, I know that my redeemer lives!”
And then he’d go back and start the whole thing over again because a brother loves to love and that’s who Timothy was.
During that same May 22 community meeting I mentioned, Timothy also quoted to us from Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
This is the legacy of our brother Tim. Though there is not (yet) a bridge named after him, or a town, or an era, it is written forever on our hearts by him of what it looks like to be “useful” in love, honorable in service and compassionate in brotherhood.
Thy name is “Timothy,” and you, indeed, made a difference and lived so very well as a thankful and giving person. God bless you, our dear brother. May you rest now forever in peace.