There are a million things that I admired about Fr. Steve Baumbusch. One of those million things was the fact that I always thought he was a gifted homilist. So I hope he’ll forgive me today if I steal one of his gimmicks. For many years now, he had a habit, when he preached a homily or was simply giving a talk – especially to young people – of beginning with the saying: “God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good.” He would teach his audience that they were to reply; so when he said ‘God is good’, they were to say ‘all the time’ and then he would say ‘and all the time’, to which they would reply ‘God is good’.
On the facebook page in which one of his seminarians gives an account of Fr. Steve’s last day on earth, he writes this saying as part of his memo – so I knew that Steve continued this tradition in the seminary at Tagaytay. So in his honor, let’s carry on: “God is good”; “all the time”, and “all the time”; “God is good.”
But, I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that these are very hard words to embrace today. My heart hurts to the point of breaking, and I know all of you feel the same way. But I believe that Steve would insist that we hold this saying in our hearts, even during the most difficult moments, especially in the most difficult moments. Because for him, this was so much more than a saying, so much more than a nice thought: rather, his whole life was based on this belief that God is good… For yes, indeed, this was his core belief, that God loves us infinitely, and He has great things in store for us.
And of course, Fr. Steve is right. In those moments when we can wipe away the webs of grief and sorrow, we know this to be true. Our faith teaches us that God created us all, giving us life simply because He wanted to, because He loves us. And even though we sinned, He found a way to bring us back to Him, through the sacrifice of His only Son on the cross. As the Lord tells us in this gospel: “Should I say ‘Father save me from this hour?’ No!! Because it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” Jesus came and freely offered Himself up for us in order to glorify the Father and bring us eternal life. What incredible love! How can we not perceive the goodness of God?
St. Paul adds that this is not something we deserve. He reminds us that this is precisely how God proves His love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is truly good news! And Fr. Steve understood this so well, that he dedicated his entire life as a missionary priest so that he could literally go out to the whole world and proclaim this good news, and celebrate it with His people. He really and truly believed in the goodness, the mercy, the love of our God. And so must we, if we are to give honor to Steve’s memory.
For me, Steve was indeed a “best friend”. Oh, we had our differences – we never did have the same political views, for instance—but that sure made for some great discussions! Now that he’s with the Lord, I take comfort in knowing that just perhaps, he now sees the error of his ways!! And he was ever the adventurer, while I was always the more timid one. I’ll never forget during our trip to Alaska how he – knowing that I don’t like heights – secretly booked both of us to go on an excursion, a helicopter ride up to the glacier! But on that, he was the one that was right – we always had a good time together, even when he had to give me a little push. I’m just glad that he was with his friend Walter in Florida when he had the itch to go skydiving, or he might have made me do that with him, too.
But we also had so much in common. We knew just about everything there was to know about each other. We shared a common faith, obviously, and I was so proud that he preached the homily at my first Mass. Even though during that homily he mentioned that he and I had many times solved all the problems of the world – at various establishments on High Street! Today I guess is my way of returning the favor. And we knew that, no matter what happened, we would always be on each other’s side. I always felt a sense of peaceful calm in his presence, and whenever we were together, it just seemed that all was right with the world. Since his passing, I have felt a special bond with him whenever I celebrate Mass, knowing that our priesthood binds us together in a unique way in the Lord Jesus. God is good…
Long ago, Steve and I made a pact: that we would not tell stories on one another. And while that may seem nice and respectful of our friendship, it’s also true that there’s a self-serving element – because if we told those stories, we would also implicate ourselves! But I’m going to honor our pact today, especially because I know that Steve would want his funeral homily to NOT be about himself, but to be about the goodness of the God he served all his life.
There are so many things which seem fitting about Steve’s funeral today. First, being here at St. Andrew’s. This is Fr. Steve’s home parish. He went to school here, he received the sacraments here, he said his first Mass here. When he went to the Philippines, he explained that it was St. Andrew’s parish who sent him. In his first assignment in Columbio, a very poor region in the south island of Mindinao, this parish took up a collection and sent him a sizeable donation so he could build a new church there. And even today, there is a plaque in the new church thanking the people of St. Andrew parish. And finally, two years ago, Fr. Steve celebrated his 25th anniversary Mass right here in this church. So it is good to have him here for this final farewell, for this is truly his “home”.
Of course, it’s also so fitting to have some of the PIME missionaries present today. As his friend, I can tell you that you guys frustrated the heck out of him at times, but only because he cared about you so much. He really loved being a part of your community, and he really loved all of you. And Ken, it is so fitting that you are the celebrant for this Mass, not only because you are the regional superior for PIME in the United States, but even more so because I know of Steve’s great esteem and love for you, too.
To all of Steve’s family, but in a special way to Jim and Ellen and Dave, I wish there was some way we could bring him back to you. He certainly always loved you, and cared so deeply for you. Please know that he certainly still loves you and cares for you, he just does so now from a place that’s even further away than the Philippines. And as you know, our faith teaches us that there will come a time when we can all be gathered together again in the kingdom of God.
To all the many other friends of Fr. Steve gathered here, you undoubtedly know that he had such a zest for life, and how he was so outgoing, and how he was liked by all because he took an interest in everyone. He often took over a room, not because he was domineering, but because people were naturally attracted to his goodness and his fun and his laughter. He was just the kind of person that everyone wanted to get to know. And he really cared about everyone he met, because he knew also that his good and loving God cared for each and every one, no matter how great or how small.
Fr. Steve now joins the family of God in a new way, at the table of the Father’s children in heaven. He’s got some family there, too. I recall that at his sister Diane’s funeral, he was “thinking a lot about angels”, as Diane was an angel for him; at his mother’s funeral, he was “thinking a lot about heroes”, as his Mom was one of his heroes; and at his dad’s funeral, he was “thinking a lot about pride, and joy”. For me, Steve was all these things, and I’m sure he was for many of you as well. He was an angel, so often bringing the message of God’s love and goodness to me. He was a hero, someone I admired deeply who was such a fine example of priesthood for me. And he was certainly my “pride and joy”, as I was so proud to call him my best friend, and I unquestionably had so much joy in our relationship.
I know I could go on, but now it’s time to say good-bye. I said he loved adventure, and now he is on the ultimate adventure. If I know him, he’ll eventually talk me into getting there as well. I just want everyone to know – as if you didn’t already – that Steve Baumbusch loved being a priest, he loved being a part of the PIME community, he loved being a missionary. Because if there was one message he wanted to communicate, if there was one thing he wanted everyone to understand, if there was one thing that summed up who he was, if there was one thing that he wants us to know from his life, and from his death, and if there’s one thing he now reminds us of in our sorrow, it was and is this: God is good…