Funeral homily for Father Paul Marx, OSB

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Father Paul believed that life begins at the moment of conception,
that life is a sacred gift from God,
and that healthy family life is the most important element of a functioning society.
He fought vigorously against abortion,
contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, and child abuse.

Funeral homily for Father Paul Marx, OSB

“Today I put before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live….”
Over the last three decades
theologians and bishops have tried to take these words
from Deuteronomy seriously
and have articulated a “consistent life ethic.”

In the early 1980s
as the conference of bishops was developing the peace pastoral
“The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response”
Cardinal Bemadin from Chicago spoke out against nuclear war and abortion.
However, he quickly expanded the scope of his thinking
to include all aspects of human life.
In one of the first speeches given on the topic at Fordham University, Bemardin said:
“The spectrum of life cuts across the issues of genetics,
abortion, capital punishment, modern warfare, and the care of the terminally ill.”
Although each of the issues was distinct and different,
nevertheless, the issues were linked
since the valuing and defending of human life were,
he believed, at the center of both issues.

As columnist Colman McCarthy has noted,
“Both the military ethic and the abortion ethic
are grounded in the same belief:
Life is cheap.
The language of the war lobby and the abortion lobby
is from the same glossary of evasions.
No one likes war, say the generals.
No one likes abortions, says National Organization of Women.
But let’s keep the killing option, just in case.” (1)

Even though the consistent lite ethic is attractive intellectually,
it raises the bar on our moral thinking and acting.
Overall, within the Church I think that it is accurate to say
that it is not readily embraced.
Catholics have abortions at pretty much the same rate as the larger population.
Forty percent of Catholics favor the death penalty.
I don’t know how Catholics stack up statistically
on the possession and use of nuclear weapons but my hunch is that many Catholics might say,
“What’s the problem?”
The seamless garment of this moral teaching on life
requires profound conversion for all of us.
If we are going to make the consistent life ethic truly ours,
in teaching and in practice, we have our work cutout for us.
Father Paul Marx put his considerable energy to this work.

Benno William Marx was bom on May 8, 1920
as the fifteenth child in a family of seventeen.
He grew up on the dairy farm
but like others that I know,
did not have any long-term interest in farming.

At the age of fifteen, in the fall of 1935,
Benno went to the Prep School.
His older brother, Father Michael,
entered the novitiate the same year.
While Benno found the school tough and demanding,
it is clear to me that he really found himself here.
He excelled as a student, as a writer, and as an athlete.
His 10.9 seconds record in the 100 yard dash in 1948
stood until 1971 and he still holds second place.
He discovered his gifts for leadership
becoming president of the student council
as well as captain of the football and track teams.

He came to the university in 1939
and entered the novitiate in 194l, receiving the name Paul.
It was the perfect name for him
when I think of the single minded missionary zeal of the apostle Paul.
He made first vows as a monk on July 11, 1942
and was ordained to the priesthood in June 1947.

While studying theology,
Father Paul served as a prefect and a teacher,
and coached both track and football at Prep.
The track team won six consecutive state championships under his guidance.
Students who violated the rules
could easily find themselves shoveling snow off the track
so that it would be in tip-top shape for early practice runs.

When at graduate school in sociology
Father Paul chose to write about the life and work of Father Virgil Michel,
the monk of this monastery
who made a singular contribution to the liturgical movement
through his creative integration of a liturgical spirituality
with a commitment to social justice.
Virgil Michel had died on November 26, 1938,
when Father Paul was a senior at Prep School –
so Virgil was still a living memory for Paul and the community.

He inspired Father Paul
and made him think about social justice in a new way.
It is this social justice framework
that Father Paul brought back to Collegeville
as he joined the faculty and began teaching courses
on marriage and family life.
He was a strong advocate of natural family planning.
In the late 1950s he was also deeply involved
in the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.

January 22, 1973 was the day that marked
a turning point in Father Paul’s understanding of the purpose of his life.
On that day, in the Roe v. Wade decision
the Supreme Court overturned a Texas interpretation of abortion law
and made abortion legal in the United States.
The Roe v. Wade decision held that a woman,
with her doctor,
could choose abortion in earlier months of pregnancy without restriction,
and with restrictions in later months.
The decision was based on the right to privacy.

Father Paul believed that life begins at the moment of conception,
that life is a sacred gift from God,
and that healthy family life is the most important element of a functioning society.
He fought vigorously against abortion,
contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, and child abuse.
From his sociological study of the use of technology
and the way it seeps into a society,
he was convinced that contraception leads to abortion,
and abortion ultimately leads to euthanasia.

In his fight against these technologies,
Father Paul gave lectures around the world
and published many books along the way.
He founded first the Human Life Center,
then Human Life International,
followed by Population Research Institute.
He also drew to him many dedicated and hardworking men and women
who helped finance these efforts and also to lead them.
He received many awards for his contribution to the pro-life movement
but was the first to acknowledge his many coworkers.
He was particularly proud of his personal audiences with popes, particularly John Paul II.

One cannot take the kind of stance that Father Paul took on “life” issues,
with his fierce intensity,
and not be controversial – the word was made for Paul.

Community life was not easy for him because it,
like marriage, requires the art of compromise.
I am sure that Paul knew conceptually what this word means,
but it was really hard for him in practice.
Father Paul was a deeply spiritual man, a man of prayer,
with a faithful commitment to Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, and the rosary.
He truly loved the Church and its ideals.

In his last moments, he prayed the prayer of Jesus in his own.
He stretched out his arms and said, “Take me Lord.”
lt was his way of making the surrender
that each one of us will make one day, trusting in a Risen. living Lord.

Abbot John Klassen, OSB
3-26-2010
(1) Colman McCarthy, The Washington Post, April 11, 1992.

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Topics: John Klassen, Paul Marx, Virgil Michel

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