UPDATED: Homily & Eulogy, Lawrence Madden, SJ

UPDATED: Here is the obituary for Fr. Larry Madden SJ from the Washington Post. Here is an article by Mary Fox from Pastoral Liturgy.

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

In the course on liturgy that Larry Madden taught in our Georgetown University department of Theology, he naturally had to get the students familiar with ritual, imagery, metaphor, and especially analogy.  The example he used, speaking of himself, was: “I am in the autumn of my life.”  When he told me that, it struck me as strange:  he seemed so youthful—even, sometimes, boyish.  “The autumn”?  Then, so suddenly, came winter.  The news stunned us, and leaves us saddened.

So as we heard the readings this morning, we were listening for what they might tell us about Larry, about loss and grief, about God and God’s workings in our lives and in our world.

Death and what follows death is beyond our grasp, but the reading from Isaiah can be helpful.  That proto-apocalyptic imagery of abundant feasting on God’s holy mountain, the veil drawn back, the tears wiped away  In Scripture the privileged image for what it is like when God’s purpose prevails is a feast, with rich food and fine wines, reclining at table in the bosom of Abraham, the wedding banquet the King gives for his son.  What awaits us when we die?  Think of a party, the Lord tells us, the Lord who puts on the apron and serves his servants.  That is what we are in for.  Good thing Larry so loved parties.

Today’s second reading, from First Peter, and the Gospel reading from John chapter 14, were the readings for last Sunday, the sixth Sunday of Easter, the readings Larry was to preach on at the nine o’clock Mass here at Holy Trinity. These occupied his thoughts as death came.

From the Gospel: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. . . . Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”  This is the heart of the matter: our share in God’s own life, which is love.  This is the focus of the paschal mystery, whose enactment in word and sacrament Larry spent his life helping others to celebrate and understand.

The second reading, First Peter, harks back to the Old Testament figure of the just man persecuted, the innocent wrongly accused.  How bitter the experience.  As the psalmist says,

“If an enemy had reviled me,
that I could bear. . . .
But it was you, my other self,
my comrade and friend,
you, whose company I enjoyed,
at whose side I walked in procession in the house of God.”
[Ps 55:13-15]

Peter’s epistle gives us the example of the Lord, “the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,” who bore it meekly, opened not his mouth in remonstration or self-justification: in the second Eucharistic prayer we say,“a death he freely accepted.”  Again, the paschal mystery, at its heart not just love, and not just self-emptying love, but love of enemy.  “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

Think of Larry’s unassuming manner, his boyish zest for life; behind that was an iron commitment to the Gospel.  That was what made it possible for Larry to bear painful events with equanimity and painful misunderstanding with gracious generosity.

St. Augustine wrote of faith and hope that “your faith is in vain, vain is your hope, unless you hope and believe this:  that the power to love will be yours for the asking.”  “Ask and you will receive.”  Larry followed the Lord’s injunction, as he followed the Lord’s example:  he asked.  What he received has enriched us all, to the glory of God.

Fr. James Walsh, S.J.
Holy Trinity Church
June 4, 2011


Eulogy given by Paul Covino

On behalf of Larry’s family, I want to thank each of you for being here this morning.  Larry loved a good party, and the liturgy, to him, was the grandest celebration of all, so you honestly couldn’t have offered him a more fitting tribute than to be part of this assembly.

Through the wonders of technology, the past few days have been something of a virtual Irish wake, with stories of Larry circulating through e-mail, Facebook, and blogs.  All that was missing was Larry’s beloved Manhattans flowing through the fiber optic cables.  The stories reveal a man with a broad range of interests, a Jesuit who loved being a priest but had no time for clericalism, and a consummate student of literature, current events, and science, as well as theology.  They also tell of the myriad ways in which he profoundly impacted people’s lives, and, in so doing, gave them a glimpse into that new heaven and new earth foreseen in the Book of Revelation and that feast on God’s holy mountain that we will hear from Isaiah in a few moments.  It gave us the sense, to quote Larry’s favorite spiritual, that we could almost see the lights of the city, God’s heavenly city[1].

For some of us, Larry was a trusted spiritual guide, a faithful disciple of Ignatius who made spirituality accessible through his goodness, humanity, and down-to-earth holiness.  As a Holy Trinity parishioner wrote, “How blessed we were to have Larry join us at recent men’s group meetings.  He never imposed himself on the discussions.  He fit in so naturally.  He resembled a spiritual EF Hutton ad.  When he spoke, everyone listened.  He said so much in so few words.  How profound, insightful, and alive he was.”  When Larry guided us spiritually, we could almost see the lights of the city.

For many of us, Larry was a gifted preacher, a faithful disciple of Jesus who spoke to us along the way of our lives and opened the Scriptures to us, proclaiming glad tidings and leaving our hearts burning within us.  Whether the words were his own or whispered into his ear by his furry sidekick Mister Blue[2], Larry’s homilies were, to quote a posting on a national liturgical blog, “brilliant and witty…always seeking ways to connect to the congregation.”[3] When Larry preached, we could almost see the lights of the city.

For many of us too, Larry was the quintessential presider, putting into practice what he taught so many other presiders.  Whether he was presiding at a daily Mass in Holy Trinity’s Chapel of Saint Ignatius, the Sunday 12:15 Mass at Georgetown’s Dahlgren Chapel, the liturgical crescendo of the Triduum, or a baptism, wedding or funeral, as another blog post noted, “You did not see him or notice him.  He served the liturgy and pointed you to Christ.”[4] When Larry presided, we could almost see the lights of the city.

For many here and around the country, Larry was a strong and consistent voice for liturgy that was beautiful and transformative.  In what was, I believe, his last published article, Larry wrote, “Over the years I came to believe that beauty in its many forms can be the most effective avenue we can take to the experience of the mystery of God.  For we Americans, I think beautiful, engaging music may be the strongest symbolic language to speak to us.  If we add quality preaching and a reverent enactment of the rites by the various ministers to beautiful and appropriate music, I believe some people’s symbolic, poetic capacities can be awakened and they can be seduced into experiences of the paschal mystery.”[5] When Larry led us to understand more deeply the transformative potential of liturgy, we could almost see the lights of the city.

For many in Washington and beyond, Larry was a great gatherer, always looking for ways to bring together an interesting mix of people from various styles, beliefs, and areas of expertise.  Whether it was a social gathering with good food and an ample bar, a sing-along around the piano, a conference on church building and renovating, or a think-tank of people in liturgy and the arts, Larry believed deeply that we were all the richer and wiser for being with a diverse group of folks.  When we were part of one of Larry’s gatherings, we could almost see the lights of the city.

Finally, as most of you know, Larry was an avid sailor.  Although he occasionally had to defend his boat to Jesuit superiors with the assertion that it was cheaper than therapy, he knew, as a Holy Trinity parishioner noted, “that he experienced the peaceful presence of God silently sailing in the Chesapeake and other waters, navigating the waves and tides – for the Lord was always his constant companion and captain of his boat.”  Looking out on the horizon, as he is in the picture on the back of today’s worship aid, Larry knew that he could almost see the lights of the city.

A colleague from Loyola University of Maryland quoted Saint Ephrem in reference to Larry in a blog: “You gave him to us, Lord, to be our joy, and now the time has come to give him back to you. We do so without a murmur, but our hearts are wrung with sorrow.”[6] May the liturgy we celebrate today help to transform this sorrow with paschal hope, a hope that Larry rekindled in us each time he sang:

John tells us of a city so high up above
Where we’ll be in a Spirit of love
We’ll meet over yonder in that heavenly place
There, we’ll see each other face to face.

Please stand and sing:

I can almost see the lights of the City
Shinin’ down on me
I can almost see the lights of the City
Forever, Lord, I shall be free.[7]

In the hope that we shall one day be reunited with Larry who now fully sees the lights of that City, let us continue to pray.[8]

[1] Lights of the City, words and music by Michael Murphy

[2] Larry often used a hand puppet named “Mister Blue” when preaching to an assembly that included children.

[3] www.praytellblog.com, May 31, 2011

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Parish Liturgy during the Past Twenty Years from a Pastor’s Viewpoint,” Liturgical Ministry, Winter 2011, 43.

[6] www.praytellblog.com, May 31, 2011

[7] Lights of the City, op. cit.

[8] Following local custom, the eulogy at the funeral took place during the Introductory Rites, following the placing of the pall and Gospel Book on the casket, and preceding the Opening Prayer.

Paul Covino is Associate Chaplain and Director of Liturgy, College of the Holy Cross, and Former Associate Director of the Georgetown Center for Liturgy.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I was there and heard Father Walsh deliver this homily in person, but I’m happy to have the text. “This is the heart of the matter: our share in God’s own life, which is love. This is the focus of the paschal mystery, whose enactment in word and sacrament Larry spent his life helping others to celebrate and understand.” Amen. Rest in peace, Larry, “Somewhere, beyond the sea…”

  2. What an excellent example of just what a funeral homily should be! Its fidelity to the scriptures proclaimed, its message, its focus, its theology, even its length -all of it- is just what the OCF asks of us.

  3. Thanks to all who made this funeral so beautiful, especially Paul and for sure to Fr. Walsh. I wish I had been there. Larry was always a friend and mentor to me and to the St. Louis Center for Liturgy, and a faithful lunch partner when our paths crossed. He did great service to the Church and to Holy Trinity, doing it with modesty and yet with grit. Events always proceed and none of us is indispensable, but I meet the loss of Larry and his eager youth with sorrow.

  4. Catherine G Quinn

    Trying to find one of the two Mr Blue puppets which belonged to Father Larry Madden. Yes there were two. We had second made for him when number one disappeared. Some time later, number one was returned by a Mother of a child who took it hone from Mass.

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