Thursday, July 17, 2008

"And What a Life He Lived!"

Politicians, the press and the public all converged in Washington earlier today as an overflow crowd packed the capital's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the funeral Mass of Tony Snow.

Praised for his "elegance," optimism and courage in the face of suffering, the former White House press secretary and Fox News commentator died Saturday at 53 after a three-year battle with colon cancer. Led by his family and DC Archbishop Donald Wuerl, the congregation included figures as diverse as Bill O'Reilly, Katie Couric, Karl Rove and Snow's West Wing predecessors from both sides of the aisle, President Bush (who spoke at the liturgy's start) and the First Lady and Vice-President and Mrs Cheney.

Here below is the homily given by this morning's celebrant, Vincentian Fr David O'Connell, the president of the Catholic University of America.
Archbishop Wuerl, President and Mrs. Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, distinguished guests, Mrs. Snow, and members of the Snow family, my sisters and brothers all:

What is the measure of a man? This question has been asked over and again from the beginning of time, throughout history, by all of those who share our human mortality. What is the measure of a man? It is a good question; it is an important question; it is an enduring question; it is an ultimate question when we face the death of someone we know and love. Someone like Tony Snow.

In his case, our answers to the question are immediate. He was a loving husband to his wife, Jill, and an adoring father to his children, Kendall, Robbie and Kristi. He was a wonderful son to his father and step-mother and a great brother. The measure of a man can certainly be found in the love of family: love given and love received.

In Tony’s case that love spilled over to touch and include many others, part of an extended family, and they are here today in this magnificent Church. Friends who grew up with Tony or who shared moments of his life — both personal and professional, both great and small, both joyful and difficult —people who became his companions on life’s journey. The measure of a man can certainly be found in such people: those who made up his every day.

And his every day was lived to the full. It was only last year, on the steps of this Basilica here, that Tony — sharing his deepest emotion, sharing his own experience — advised the graduating class of The Catholic University of America, some of whom are here today: “Live boldly. Live a whole life.”

No one of us among his family or friends believes that Tony’s life was long enough. And, yet — in the face of its brevity — we respond in faith, we who are believers, that the measure of a man is not found, as the Book of Wisdom comforts us today, “in terms of years (Wisdom 4:8).” It is, indeed, our faith that reminds us: “the just man, though he die early, shall be at rest. For the age that is honorable comes not with the passing of time. He who pleased God, Wisdom writes, was loved (and) … having become perfect in a short while, he reached the fullness of a long career; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord (Wisdom 4: 7-14).” For the believer, for people of faith, the true measure of a man lies in his efforts to please God.

Tony shared that conviction of faith. He believed, as St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans affirms, that “no one lives for himself” that “no one dies for himself (Romans 14: 7),” that we live and we die for the Lord, that we are his. And that the Lord, above all and alone is the one to whom, we shall give an accounting for our life.

And what a life he lived! From his earliest years growing up in Cincinnati, Tony Snow “lived a whole life.” He excelled in school and athletics and it should come as no surprise that he was on the debate team and successful there too. He attended Davidson College and loved to tell stories about his brief days as a self-described “socialist with a ponytail.” At graduation, Tony was not sure what he wanted to do with his life — perhaps become a social worker or a teacher. After graduate studies at the University of Chicago, his career path emerged: he would become a journalist, a decision that shaped the rest of his life and that, eventually, introduced him to his wife and brought him here to Washington. And it was here that the whole world would come to know him. An editor, columnist, broadcaster, analyst, presidential speechwriter, member of a rock band, White House press secretary, news commentator, Tony Snow was destined to live a “whole life” and in the process, to do great things. And, yet, the measure of this man’s life was never his job or his title or even the long list of accomplishments in the public eye, as impressive as they all were. The measure of this man’s life can be found in his character, in his optimism, in his joy and great sense of humor, in his courage, in his passion for what was good and true and right, in his love of God and of family and of neighbor and of country. Tony Snow did not need a long life for us to measure. It was, rather, we who needed his life to be longer.

“I don’t know why I have cancer,” Tony wrote in Christianity Today last year, “and I don’t much care.” He continued, “We don’t know how the narrative of our lives will end but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face to face … those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main and faith to live — no matter how their days may be numbered.” My sisters and brothers, those words are for all of us to hear.

The passing of anyone we love moves us to question: what is the measure of a man? And whatever your answer may be, whatever our answer may be, we can be sure that the measure of a man is not found in words or titles or length of days but, rather, in deeds done, in a life lived, in a love shared and in the beliefs that made it so. The Gospel of St. Matthew tells us today: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, clean of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the just" (Matthew 5: 1-12) … these are the measure of a Christian man. For Tony Snow, these were the ways he embraced his own advice to “live boldly” and to “live a whole life.”

When he spoke to our graduates last spring, Tony shared an especially poignant moment and profound thought about his latest battle with cancer. He reflected that “while God doesn’t promise tomorrow, he does promise eternity.”

For Tony Snow, that promise has been fulfilled. Amen.