FUNERAL HOMILY FOR FR. ROBERT PAWELL, OFM by Friar Johnpaul Cafiero, OFM July 8, 2017 St Peter Church, Chicago IL
I once heard this story about what an elderly man wrote in his will for his family- I now leave to my family and friends all my earthly possessions; If it is gold and silver that they desire, then I have left them poor. But if I have taught them anything about the awesome love and grace of Jesus Christ, then they are rich – rich beyond measure.
If anything Bob Pawell has taught all those he has touched-
it is the awesome, unconditional love and grace of Jesus Christ.
What does one say about the life of Bob Pawell- a man of tremendous knowledge, wisdom and insight, Bob loved to read and study, his files and notebooks filled with quotes and inspirations. Little bits of wisdom and encouragement he would slip to the hundreds of penitents here at St peters or the countless who came seeking his counsel and insights.
bob was an artist, he loved beauty. Whether in his painting and sketches, the Caligraphy with which he graced his cards, the hours cutting intricate designs for his famous Christmas ornaments that he shared with family and friends, or the magic in the colors and fragrances of his gardens,
Richard, his foster brother, shared the story of taking bob to Key-o-toe Japan, where Bob was so impressed and inspiried by the beautiful Japanese gardens- that influences his own gardens at Tau house and at our friary of Holy Evangelists- 8 foot lilies, lilac brushes and our fragrant roses.
Bob loved the beauty in the variety of people God put in his paths, from Tau house and the French Quarter, Project Lazarus, MtCarmel, St Bonaventure and here at St Peters, to spiritual direction with hundreds of Gods children ,
he loved the dance of the human spirit, his face lit up with joy as we sat watching the grace of a dear friend Lucas dance at the Joffrey ballet.
Bob was a man of faith; Many of his family and longest friends- Kevin Odonnel of San Fran. spoke of 3 young boys from Wicker Park- Kevin they called(Jackie), Jim Berens and bob, who would often celebrate solemn mass on the high altar of a radiator cover with ritz crackers and cool aide. His brother Dick says that’s the story the cousins always bring up at family gatherings.
Perhaps it was the inspiration of faith that came from his grandfather who immigrated from Poland to NY, to Canada, met a Franciscan priest who helped him get settled in Chicago with his young growing family.
Grandpa always prayed that one of his sons or grandsons would follow the Franciscan way of that kind and generous friar. So maybe Bob was destined to the way of St Francis from before birth. Kevin said that Bob was relentlessly spiritual and he inspired those around him. All three of those young boys from Wicker park went to seminaries.
The Spirit moved in Bob in manifold ways as he worked with the days and years, relationships, and opportunities God placed before him, always to make something beautiful out of them,, a creation others can appreciate and be enriched by. As so many were by his beautiful and inspiring gardens.
When I finally convinced Bob to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with me and our pilgrims-many here today. I remember how Bob cried in another garden. The garden of Gethsemane where Jesus went to pray to God just prior to his passion and crucifixion. Bob knew that suffering in his life. Our lives are not always the bed of roses we would like them to be. Bob knew this, he had had his ups and downs including the lose of his father Zygmund and his dear mother Mae, the loss of so many friends when the AIDS epidemic struck in the 80s, inspring him to create Tau house in New Orleans and co found the AIDS hospice-project Lazarus with Fr Paul De Rosier, who called me yesterday. So many young, talented lives cut short, Bob held many in their dying moments as St Francis embraced the lepers of his day.
Bob entered his own passion and had to carry the cross of his own illnesses, heart problems, prostate cancer, strokes, and then the 2 yr battle with bladder cancer that would claim his life. He fought hard to hold on to the life he loved so much. He was frightened and in tremendous pain. But it was that faith planted by his family , friends and the friars, who inspired him, that helped Bob remember that the dark garden of Gethsemane and all the pain he was experiencing is not the end of the story. There was another garden not far from the cross and suffering of Calvary. A beautiful garden that held a tomb, a tomb that on a glorious Easter morning was empty. The risen Christ who embraced the disciples and Mary Magdaleine, that first Easter, on Tues July 4 around 2:30pm , reached out and embraced our brother, uncle, friend Bob Pawell, like He has never been hugged before. Only Bob would go out with fireworks!!!
Bob reminds all of us That the embrace in the resurrection garden is the garden that awaits every one of us.
You see bob has only been transplanted from this earthly garden to the Heavenly one. What a comfort we can find in the fact that bob is enjoying God's garden right now. Probably weeding around the Easter Lilies!!
But I am here today to tell you that Bob’s greatest legacy is this: his treasure and his heart were firmly planted with Jesus Christ. Did he have shortfalls? Of course he did; just ask the friars! Did he have warts and flaws and guilt and sin? Of course he did. Can we talk!!
But on Tuesday, when he breathed his last, God embraced him and welcomed him home. “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for God is pleased to give you the kingdom.” That’s the promise that Bob trusted throughout his whole life.
And that’s the promise that Jesus has also made to us. Bob’s wisdom, and kindness, and generosity, were well documented, but it wasn’t enough to get him into heaven. Only the love of Jesus, which Bob often read about in the writings of his favorite spiritual writer, St Theresa, the little flower, That Love of Jesus through his passion and death on the cross has accomplish that for all of us. Bob is in the garden of the kingdom, and we will see him again when our time comes to experience that divine embrace. May that promise fill us with hope today.
To Bobs family and friends, Bonnie Michels-his care taker all these months, the doctors and nurses, therapists at Alden, Northwestern, the Zabels, Ed Shea and all the friars who visited and supported Bob during his illnesses, All who called, visited, sent cards and emails, may the truth of the resurrection sustain you in your grief, and comfort you in your loneliness, and hold you close when you are sad. If we Remember the lesson of Bobs life about the awesome love and grace of Jesus Christ, then we too will be rich – rich beyond measure.
I will miss you my friend and brother, our long chats as we pulled weeds together, yelled at the politicians on nightly news, watched Pat and vanna on Wheel of fortune or cut garlic and basil for one of your wonderful pesto creations.
But I know that one day the loving Lord and you St. Robert will embrace us, in that glorious- and fabulous- garden of the eternal spring.