Funeral Mass of Msgr. William StantonBy: Fr. David Hulshof Cape Girardeau MO
To Bishop Rice, Bishop Leibrecht, my fellow priests, and classmates of Fr. Bill, sisters, deacons, beloved members of the Stanton family, Betty, Laura, Carol, and your loved ones, parishioners from parishes served by Msgr. Stanton, friends all, we come together in the celebration of the Lord’s liturgy and in prayer today for Msgr. William Stanton, or as we simply called him: Fr. Bill.
Fr. Ralph Duffner, or Fr. Jake as we called him, was Fr. Bill’s best friend and traveling companion. And when Fr Jake died in December of 2013, Fr. Bill simply mentioned to me, I want you to preach at my funeral. “I was going to have Jake preach,” he said, “but given Jake’s death, I would like for you to do so.” And for that reason, I am truly honored today.
Fr. Bill was my pastor and mentor for the first three years of my own priesthood. He met me at the door of the Immaculate Conception Rectory in Jackson on May 1, 1982, and we hit it off from the get-go. He was welcoming to me, a priest of the people, and I was eager to learn from him. Among his many pastoral gifts, Fr. Bill loved working with Marriage Encounter and I learned a lot about marriage preparation from him. I also learned about pastorally working with couples who had gone through the pains of separation and divorce. How to assist those who desired healing through the annulment process. Msgr. Stanton also had a great love for guiding people on their faith journey through Cursillo, the Council of Catholic Women, and the St. Francis de Sales Organization. He enjoyed the stories of people’s lives and supported them in their hardships. Fr. Stanton also introduced me to working with the local Ministerial Alliance, something that I have enjoyed and continued doing so through the years.
Needless to say, I learned a lot from Fr. Bill. In those three years together, I can only remember two occasions in which we had a disagreement regarding an issue in the parish. As my pastor, I acquiesced to him in both accounts. And looking back, he was probably right in both instances. Certainly, at least one. Well, maybe both!
I remember not long into ministry at I.C. that I was getting not-so-fond of the early morning Mass: It was at 6 a.m. Anyway, I mentioned to Bill if we could consider moving that Mass to a half-hour later. He looked at me and said: “You know, those people that you see every day at that early Mass. Those same people you will see tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day after that. Their prayers are the reason why you became a priest, and the reason why you will stay one.”
I said nothing more.
Fr. Bill was a man of prayer and Scripture, and once when riding with him to a meeting, he had been reflecting on a particular passage of Scripture. “Now that’s the verse I want at my funeral,” he said: Quoting Lk 17:37, “For where the body lies, there the vultures will gather.” What?! I said. Bill had a sense of humor, too. And honestly, I didn’t know whether that might be a verse I would be preaching on today. I am glad it is not.
Yesterday, at the prayer vigil, we recalled the call of the apostles in the Gospel of Matthew. If there was an apostle that I would associate with Bill, it would have been Nathaniel, a.k.a. Bartholomew, the one in whom Jesus said there was no guile, no duplicity. Fr. Bill Stanton was a people’s priest and a priest’s priest, as Bishop Rice said last evening. You knew where he was coming from. Whether you might agree or disagree, he was a man of conviction based on a love for God’s people.
We were eating an evening meal together, three years into my time at Jackson, when the phone rang. As I responded, it was Bishop Leibrecht. As he asked me how I was doing, I began to prepare myself for a conversation about a change of assignment. Then Bishop Leibrecht said, I need to talk to your pastor, Fr. Bill. Truly surprised, I said “okay” and handed the phone to Bill. A short conversation ensued, and Fr. Stanton said “fine.” He hung up the phone and said: “Well, looks like I will be going to West Plains. I hadn’t planned on returning to any of the parishes I had served before, but the bishop needs me there and I have always been committed to my promise of obedience and the good of the diocese.”
That spoke so powerfully to me as a young priest! I saw this commitment witnessed faithfully by Bill to his last parish ministry at St. Michael’s in Fredericktown.
The readings that Msgr. Bill Stanton chose for his funeral today reflect a belief in the resurrection and a relationship of love and service. I think Bill could joke about the vultures gathering because he knew that death would have but a miniscule effect upon us. As Isaiah proclaims: The Lord will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, he will destroy death forever. Death can have no lasting effect on the believer. Those who through their lives of service, climb the mountain that will lead to rich foods and pure choice wines—an image of the heavenly banquet—have nothing to fear. St. Paul reiterates the same: Behold, I tell you a mystery. That which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal with immortality. Death where is your victory? Paul writes. Ah, but you have none through the victory of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
You and I are resurrection people, we are called to be both believers and disciples. Called to proclaim our faith in the Lord of Life and then live that faith in service with that belief that sustains us. These first two readings speak about the triumph of life over death, and then there is the Gospel.
How many times have we priests preached about this beautiful passage from Matthew, Chapter 11— about that which God has revealed to the childlike? I have to tell you though, that for the first time, I read this passage in the context of something Bill liked to do particularly in the first half of his priesthood. Bill would dress up as a clown and do clown ministry for children and adults alike. He could do balloon animals and he had a bag of tricks. He would use these tricks sometimes in a homily with the children at Mass making Christ’s words relevant to child and adult alike. Bill desired to proclaim the good news in any way possible.
Once, when I asked him what he did to keep himself busy when he was stationed in those more remote missions or parishes, he told me that he visited the Catholic families and then got involved in needs of the poor or whatever was going on in that area. “No matter where you are stationed,” he said, “you can stay busy in ministry if you want to.” Bill yoked himself to Christ and labored well in God’s vineyard. For 60 ordained years he worked in God’s harvest, and now he can rest.
We priests are blessed by the people that we serve. We are edified by those God has given us to care for. Msgr. William Stanton rejoiced in that relationship. Today, together, as children of God, let us commend this beloved priest and founding member of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau to God’s eternal care. And we pray, may his soul, and all the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Fr. David Hulshof
January 23, 2017