The following homily was provided by Fr. Larry J. Hemmelgarn for the funeral of Clay Mathile.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death Peter would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
– Gospel: John 21: 15-19
Mary, Cate and Don, Tim and Lynn, Mike and Michelle, Tina, Jen and Pat, (Jim and Rosie), Janice, Sally and Rick, all of you grandchildren and little Andrew, on behalf of Precious Blood Parish, the Precious Blood Community, and all of us gathered here, I extend to you our deepest sympathy. Your loss is our loss. Your loss is the loss of our community and far beyond. Know that our thoughts and prayers have been with you and will continue to be with you as you journey into a new and different relationship with Clay, your dear husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, brother, brother-in-law or friend.
All of us are gathered here this morning because of our love, respect, and admiration for Clayton Mathile and because of our relationships with you. We know that Clay lives on in heaven, but he also lives on in each one of you and all the people he touched in his lifetime. Today we celebrate his life and his journey of faith that has brought us to this church today.
I met Clay and Mary and their family 39 years ago across the parking lot in the former gym that the parish was using at the time as its worship space. I can remember exactly where they sat in the church. I was transferred and then returned to Dayton in 1999 and we reconnected, and that connection has grown with each passing year. With Clay especially, it grew deeper these past two years as he began to confront his mortality. And as you can imagine, he did not like it one bit. But Clay, the insatiable student, never stopped asking his questions. He was honest and straightforward with me and wanted answers to his questions. Some of them I could give him, others he had to find within himself, and I believe he did.
Just as with business decisions, Clay analyzed his experiences and began to articulate his faith more clearly for himself. Mary, you already know this, but you were a huge help to him on that journey. He looked to you on many things about God, learned from you and the two of you grew together.
Clay and the entire family have been hearing me say for years that St. John tells us that God is love, so when we experience love, pure goodness, we are experiencing God and when we respond positively to that love, to our God, we help to build God’s kingdom here on Earth.
When Clay and I started having deeper conversations about his faith and faith in general, I began to realize how seriously he took what I said and that he had thought about it. And when he did, he began to realize the reality of God’s presence in his love for you, Mary, and each one of his children, their spouses, and his grandchildren and most recently with the birth of the first great-grandchild and his own siblings and their spouses. God’s love became real for him in a new way. That brought him great comfort but as you would expect, it also brought him many more questions. The main one being, “Have I done enough to build God’s kingdom here on earth?”
I think all of us can or have asked ourselves that question. I know I have and it’s the reason I chose this Gospel passage for our celebration this morning. Every time Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” And then Jesus would reply, “Feed my lambs or tend my sheep or feed them.” Three times Jesus asked, and three times Peter responded in the same way. I believe Jesus’ question was both literal and figurative. We know the great love Jesus had for the poor, the weak, those on the fringes of society. We know that Jesus tells us it is our obligation to take care of them.
We feed our brothers and sisters in many ways. We nourish them with education. We nourish them with housing. We nourish them with our care, concern and love. We share what God has given us. Clay did all these things. Some of them he could readily recognize, and others took a little more reflection.
Clay tried to learn the names of people, every employee, every person he met no matter who they were, which speaks to the dignity of everyone. When he sold Iams, his employees shared in his good fortune. He tried to build a culture of care, concern and respect in all his endeavors.
I loved hearing about Clay’s lunches with his grandchildren. My impression is that, like always, he asked a lot of questions, and these questions were rooted in his care, concern and genuine interest in all of you. I can imagine what a gift those lunches were for you. All that care, concern, love – that was God’s presence in the moment. I am sure that you children have had similar experiences with your dad and father in-law and you could tell many stories about conversations you had with him. Again, the love behind those conversations was God working through him to reach you. That doesn’t mean everything he said came directly from God. And I am equally certain that everything he said was not necessarily holy, but the vast majority was out of love and concern for you or whatever you were facing at the time.
Clay would never have thought of himself as an instrument of God but that is exactly what he was/is and each of us has that opportunity as well. I am confident that God works through every one of us here, whether we are aware of it or not.
Clay told me that his greatest contribution to humanity was the Chispuditos project. Why? Because it literally fed children and has such a great possibility of impacting malnutrition in third world countries. Chispuditos is a corn/soy formula fortified with micronutrients, a unique blend of 21 vitamins and minerals that the Institute specially formulated for children under 6 years of age.
When children are malnourished, their physical development is stunted, they suffer anemia, which results in poor cognitive development. The damage to the body and brain development is irreversible.
The Mathile Institute has changed the lives of 16,000 children in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. That is the way Clay Mathile responded to the command of Jesus to feed his lambs.
I think when Clay was finally able to begin to make the connections of what he had done in his life with how he had many times unknowingly responded to God, he began to be more at peace. This is especially true in regard to his family. He loved all of you so much. He treasured you, especially you, Mary, and in these final months the efforts all of you made to be present to him was a real gift that he appreciated beyond measure or words.
Clay would be the first one to admit his failings and would never think of himself as a saint or even a holy man, but he did think of himself as a man of faith and was at peace when his time came to meet God.
Clay was so many things to so many people and we will celebrate all of that at a later time. Today, we celebrate his journey of faith and the example he is for us. “Do you love me?” Jesus asked. Clay said, “yes” and he did feed his sheep, his wife, his children, grandchildren, siblings and their families and many, many others. His life begs the question for each of us when Jesus asks us, “Do you love me?” and the response we want to make.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord,
And may perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and all the souls of the faithfully departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.
Fr. Larry J. Hemmelgarn