Eulogy for Father Tom Goekler, MM (Delivered by Mark Colville of the Amistad Catholic Worker, at Maryknoll, NY, Saturday, December 18, 2010)

The first thing to be said is that I’ve never in my life received a greater honor than to be invited to speak here today. Tom’s sister Peg tells me that the invitation came from Tom himself in a recent conversation she had with him; I’ll carry that as a precious gift for the rest of my days. My wife Luz and I are extremely grateful to you-Frances, Eleanor, Helen and Peg-for treating us like part of your family during this difficult walk into life without your brother, and we pledge today to continue that walk, with you, as family. We give thanks and condolences also to this great community called Maryknoll, in which Tom found his spiritual and apostolic family, as well as a plethora of kindred spirits. He was happy and proud to be counted among you.
There are many people here who are probably better equipped than I to give testimony to the life of this great spirit we celebrate today: Padre Tomas… Father Tom. I say this because there are some here, and perhaps hundreds more throughout the world who would tell you, if you asked them, that Padre Tomas literally saved their lives. Think of that. Here is a man that we knew, one we grew up with, a priest, one we worked and prayed with and sat at a table with and marched and went to jail and hung out at the beach with, and at the end of his life we can say ,without exaggerating, that he saved hundreds of our lives! This is extraordinary. We have brushed up against holiness, in the true sense of that word. Personally, as a fairly privileged kid coming from the suburbs of Connecticut, I can’t say that Father Tom saved my life- unless we consider helping one pull one’s head out of one’s tookas to be a lifesaving maneuver! But what I can do is what apparently Tom wanted me to do. I can stand here and hang my hat on the one thing that keeps piercing my heart today: Tom was my closest friend. I’m a lucky man.
The first time I met Tom was in 1981 at St. George’s Church in Guilford CT. I was a 19 year-old youth minister- a bit of a religious zealot at the time, as he was always fond of reminding me- and Tom had been invited by a group of adults at the parish to come down from Sacred Heart Church in Hartford’s North End-the poorest parish in the diocese- to give a series of talks on Liberation Theology. At the time, there were two significant things happening for the liberals at St. George parish: The Nicaraguan Revolution was in full swing (Tom was a big supporter of the Sandinistas), and the people of the parish were about to vote on a proposal to build a second parish hall, costing a half-million dollars, across from the first parish hall on the grounds of St. George’s. (Tom’s parish, meanwhile, was running the largest tutoring program in the state out of an old trailer with no heat, jammed up against the church sacristy). Well, anyone who knew Tom then or now can be certain as to which of these realities became the frame around which he chose to discuss the finer points of Liberation Theology. Nicaragua never came up. He railed about the state of Connecticut being the most segregated place in the entire country, with the greatest disparity between rich and poor, and lamented the fact that Catholics in Connecticut had not managed to reflect anything different from such a diabolical systemic situation. He kept using that word: diabolical. What did that mean? It was a word I’d never heard outside of cartoons or superhero comic strips. But he wasn’t joking, and the word was carefully chosen. Diabolical. Poverty, and the violence that is inflicted by poverty, is diabolical. Our failure to understand that our core mission as Catholics is to take up the Cross in resistance to the violence of poverty, is diabolical. The economic injustice that we’ve allowed to fester in the Archdiocese of Hartford- it’s all diabolical. I guess you could say that if Tom was here right now and I had the opportunity to tell him how much I loved him, I’d probably begin with, “You had me at ‘diabolical’”. Anyway, I had organized a group of young people to come hear Tom’s talks, and as the temperature began to reach the boiling point in that room, the kids and I were fascinated. We were watching a fight break out between a priest and a bunch of very nice, good-hearted, churchgoing people, and we couldn’t wait to see how this thing was going to end!
And the fact is, it hasn’t ended. Tom spent his entire life afflicting our consciences with a clear and unbending sense of justice and morality, as well as a coherent analysis of the movement of evil in the world. And in doing this, he moved us- sometimes literally- from where we were at to where we had ought to be.
Tom convinced us that we were very important. He convinced us that what we chose to do with our lives, starting from the smallest decisions and including those we would normally regard as personal ones, was very, very important. It could change the world. WE could change the world. I could change the world simply by seeing, for example, that my college education was not a commodity, it did not belong to me, like some tool for upward mobility and the acquisition of creature comforts; it belonged at the service of others, particularly those who did not have the privilege of the education that I’d received. I could change the world by understanding that my home need not be a place apart, where I flee from reality to a “safe” neighborhood with my own family to find refuge from the world; it could be a place where the poor are my neighbors, where my family and I could open the doors and invite the world in, so that we all might find refuge together. These things are not beyond us, they’re within our power. Tom’s thinking was not only countercultural, it was downright aggravating, and so annoyingly subversive of the plans we had been making for ourselves. He turned our lives upside down- and we didn’t often thank him for it!- simply by refusing to acknowledge the limitations we had somehow pre-programmed into our vision of what was possible. In short, Tom did not empower people- he knew that God had already done that. Tom loved us into finding our power, whether we were a sheltered White kid from the suburbs or a Puerto Rican from Bellevue Square in the North End, or a gang banger on the streets of San Pedro Sula, or an underground Catholic in China, or an abused child in Paraiso Dos, Zona 18, Guatemala. And above all, he never let us- not any one of us- get away with thinking or acting like we were less than what God had created us to be. That would be diabolical.
Father Tom Goekler was first and foremost an apostle among the poor. He founded Caminando Por La Paz, and Jovenes En La Calle, two programs that have led hundreds of young people out of street gangs and thousands into new homes, first in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and currently in Guatemala City.  He was a co-founder of the Amistad Catholic Worker in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Catholic Worker always remained his home. In the 1970’s and 80’s, as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Hartford’s North End, he mentored a youth group and tutoring program which became models for human development and from which dozens of Hartford’s best community leaders have arisen. Father Tom was a single-minded, single-hearted and tireless advocate for the betterment of people’s lives. He stood firm on principles that we often overlooked or thought unimportant, because his vision of right and wrong was never abstract; it was always rooted in his love for specific people and his desire to shoulder their burdens and be a part of their liberation.
But Tom was something more than what we saw in his public life and prophetic witness, and I only came to realize it in these later years as his spiritual journey unfolded: He was a monk. Tom was a monk who joyfully chose to dwell in the noisiest, most crowded and stress-ridden places, needing nothing more than the poor possessed, practicing radical nonviolence, reading Thomas Merton (his favorite spiritual teacher), praying constantly and bearing the simple loving presence of God. He stood in places where it often must have seemed that the world was literally falling down around him, and there he would stand, and wait, and then calmly go about picking up the pieces. He found serenity in a well-developed interior life, a serenity by which he could love solitude and silence but not require them to be happy, or centered in God, or mindful of the presence of God in others. Most of all, Tom had a kind of interior discipline which enabled him to be an incredibly thoughtful person, with a seemingly boundless energy for reaching out to the people in his life. In the end, this combination of monk and missioner proved to be extremely powerful and transformative. Every place that Tom lived became better- more peaceful, more cooperative, more educated, safer, and more beautiful- by the time he left.
Across so many borders, whether national, racial, socio-economic or cultural, or simply those boundaries created by the fear we’ve learned to have of one another, somehow Tom managed to get us all sitting at the table together, speaking a common language, each knowing in our hearts that we belonged there. It’s occurred to me often since I learned of his death that everything Tom taught us might be captured in this one statement: “EVERYONE belongs at the table”. How different might the world look by next year if we all went forth from this chapel today insisting on that in every aspect of our lives the way Tom did with his life. “EVERYONE belongs at the table.” It was a conviction that truly became a lifestyle for him, devoted as he was to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. He and Dorothy shared something very foundational in common: they believed very deeply in, and were unshakably sustained by, the celebration of the Eucharist, not only as a formative ritual but as a model for life. They understood, at a mystical depth, that the encounter with that same Christ who is present at the eucharistic table is available to us daily, in the world, in the streets, at our own kitchen tables, to the extent that we choose to welcome Christ, to walk with Christ, to seek solidarity with Christ, in the person of the poor.
One of Tom’s last little projects came to fruition this past April, when he and a group of friends bought a small house in the woods of Pennsylvania. It is meant to be a place of respite, open to all of us who are “on the way” together, a place to gather and find serenity, to conspire against the diabolical, and to celebrate life. It still needs a little work. But he truly loved that place, and looked forward to spending a great deal of time there in the coming years. The prospect of not being able to share those years with my best friend is a sadness and a grief that I still have yet to confront…and I ask your prayers. But I think it would make Tom very happy now if you would come and visit that house. Consider it his parting gift, a way of keeping him close to your heart and honoring all the goodness he embodied. But please come- talk to me about it and we’ll make it happen- I guarantee that you will feel his presence there.
And I’ll close with this: When Thomas Merton’s dear friend Boris Pasternak died- a man who Merton revered- he wrote this simple entry in his monastic journal: “Pasternak died Monday. His story is finished. It is now meant to be understood.”
Tom Goekler has died. His story, too, is finished. But not for the people in Guatemala and Honduras, who continue to depend on his life-saving work. That work is now at risk, and it must continue. We, who understand, must insist on it. Because Tom’s is a good story, it’s a really good story. It’s worth telling again, and again, every time we gather, until we all understand.

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