August 24, 2012, Modesto, CA, by Fr. Joseph Illo
I wish to welcome all who have come to this funeral to pray for Neil Phillips’ soul and to console his beloved wife Stacy, the five children, three grandchildren, two sons-in-law, and Neil’s siblings and extended family. Many of you have traveled from a distance—a special welcome to Mr. Dino Durando from Kansas City, who brought Neil and Stacy into the Religious Education Department of our parish many years ago before he took a new job with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. We welcome local priests, including Fr. Ramon Bejerano, pastor of St. Stanislaus parish, and Fr. Michael Brady, Chaplin at Central Catholic High School. Many thanks to Fr. Mark Wagner, pastor of St. Joseph’s, and the staff of this parish, for organizing such a beautiful requiem Mass. We welcome also Fr. Jerry Jung, an Opus Dei priest from Berkeley who leads a regular men’s recollection at our parish. Many thanks to Fr. Matthew McNeely from St. Stephen’s Parish in Sacramento, and his assistance with the Latin form of the Mass, and for the other members of the Fraternity of St. Peter, including seminarian Tim O’ Brien from Nebraska, and all the extended family. For five generations the Phillips family have been such an institution in the Patterson-Modesto area that we all feel like part of the extended Phillips family.
Neil died as he lived: in imitation of Christ
Neil Phillips was on his way to an Opus Dei men’s recollection when he was killed in a tragic accident last Thursday. He was on his way to study the Scriptures with other men and to pray for his family when God took him. The Founder of Opus Dei, St. José Maria Escriva, wrote these words in a little book called Furrow: “Those who flee like cowards from suffering have something to meditate on when they see the enthusiasm with which other souls embrace pain. There are many men and women who know how to suffer in a Christian way. Let us follow their example.” By the grace of God, Neil Phillips was no coward. Over the years, he had learned from the example of the saints how to face difficulties with composure, even with joy, and to make of his life a gift to others, with God’s help. His life, too, served as an example of Christian manhood, of suffering life’s difficulties with patience and gratitude.
At 10:20pm last Thursday, Fr. Mark called me on the way to Doctor’s Hospital. “Neil Phillips has been killed in a car accident,” he said. I didn’t realize how much a brother Neil was to me until I heard those words. I have seldom felt this sense of loss as I have in the days following Neil’s death. For so many of us, Neil served as a kind of bedrock in our lives. And if he was that for us, what must’ve he been for his beloved wife and children?
Fr. Mark blessed Neil’s body at the hospital, as our hospital chaplain, Fr. Larry Guerrero, had done an hour earlier. Fr. Mark told me that Neil looked like Christ in noble repose after the crucifixion: very few marks of the trauma on his body—a few scratches on his face from the flying glass—but a tall, fit body, with composed features and beautiful proportions. “It was like looking at the image of Jesus on the shroud,” he said. His body in death portrayed his person in life, by the grace of God. He lived a well-ordered, valiant, and self-sacrificial life, in imitation of his Master.
Lazarus: purchased with the Blood of the Lamb
Holy Mother Church gives us the Gospel of Lazarus for the Solemn Requiem Mass, the Mass for the dead. Jesus loved Lazarus of Bethany with a particular brotherly affection. Lazarus is dying, and Jesus lets him die—He does not stop death. He tolerates it, in view of a greater good. “This illness is not to end in death,” he tells his disciples, “but is for the glory of God.”
Still, faced with the death of her brother, Lazarus’ sister Martha questions Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died….” In other words, “why didn’t you heal him? Why did you let the one you love die?” Death certainly tests our faith in God. I have known many people to lose their faith, at least for a time, after the death of a loved one. “Don’t worry,” Jesus tells Martha, “your brother will rise.” “Yes, I know he will rise on the last day, but I miss him now,” Martha replies. Jesus simply says, “I am… the resurrection and the life…” He doesn’t stop death, but he puts death in its place. Death is relativized, subordinated to Life. Jesus is Life itself. Death can be extremely painful, but it no longer has the final word. As we chant in today’s Mass at the Preface, “for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended….” “Do you believe this?” Jesus asks Martha. “Yes, Lord, I do believe…” she responds. And her response, her faith, makes all the difference.
Still, Jesus himself, facing the corpse of his friend Lazarus, groans in deep distress, as we read a few verses later: “and Jesus wept.” Death distresses the most faithful disciple, and so the choir sang the terrible Dies Irae chant before this Gospel: “Day of wrath and terror, that terrible Day…” Death is no joke. Jesus will raise Lazarus, he will destroy death, but only at the price of his own death. The price must be paid.
The finest manner of living one’s life here below is that of imitating the life of Christ, of daily destroying death by dying to ourselves, by offering ourselves to God for others in small ways, and big ways when called upon to do so. A Christian man, in particular, provides for others by taking the bullet, so to speak, by sacrificing himself for others.
One of my friends from this parish told me that his office assistant was in the car opposite Neil’s truck last Thursday. She considers that Neil saved her life: the semi rig was coming for her, but Neil’s truck deflected the impact to her vehicle.
Our Mother, at the hour of our death
After the rosary last night, a woman was waiting to speak to me. Her name, she said, was Adrianna, and she was driving the car just in front of Neil’s truck through that intersection. The semi only clipped her back bumper even as it hit Neil’s truck with full force. After the impact, she got out to help. She cut Neil’s seatbelt loose and pulled him free, although he was unconscious. She called 911. Later that night, she found a card that had come off Neil’s clothing and gotten lodged in her own clothing. It was a prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes. I will read the prayer on Neil’s card to you:
Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes
O ever Immaculate Virgin, Mother of
Mercy, you are the refuge of sinners
and the comfort of the afflicted.
Look with mercy on us. By appearing
in the Grotto of Lourdes you gave
the world hope. Your Son has healed
many, thanks to your compassionate
intercession. Therefore, I come
humbly before you to ask for your
motherly intercession for all who
are sick in body, mind and spirit.
Holy Mary, pray for us now and
at the hour of death.
It is said that many a man calls out for his mother when he knows he is dying. We all need a mother in our last agony, and so Catholics pray that Mary hear our prayer, “now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.” I speak now to my brothers in this church, the men and boys. Do not, my brothers, be ashamed of your mother. Pray the rosary, pray the angelus, stay close to her now, and at the hour of your deaths. Neil practiced a deep filial devotion to the Mother of God. I am quite sure that he called out to her at the instant of his death, because he called out to her continually throughout his life.
God gave us the life of Neil Phillips. God also permitted the death of Neil Phillips. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Checks Payable to: "American Funds"
C/O FMC Wealth Management
Attn: Deb Fields (Phillips Sons)
2659 Townsgate Road, Suite 246
Westlake Village, CA 91361
(Your gift will be acknowledged by FMC)
There is also a fund for Neil & Stacy’s oldest son, Michael Phillips, who is a senior at Texas A & M this year. http://www.gofundme.com/12mgq0?utm_source=sendgrid.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Emails