Set Out Into the Deep – Homily at the Liturgy in Memory of
Bishop Joseph Estabrook
February 11, 2012 – Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception – Albany, New York
Mary Ann and Tim, the church family here in the Diocese of Albany mourns with you, your mother and your family over the death of Joseph, your brother and ours. Today we celebrate God’s love for him and his love for God, humanity and nature.
Bishop Joe Estabrook was fond of quoting Psalm 139 whenever he had a chance. His family read that psalm with him in Joe’s final moments of life. Some say that psalm is part of a collection of prayers that King David may have said. It is a psalm that reminded Joe and all of us here today that there is no place to hide from the presence of God; God knows all about what we do.
The ubiquitous presence of God in our lives was both comforting and troubling for Joe. I remember touring a trident nuclear submarine in Seattle, WA with him and some of our seminary classmates. There we were standing inside this very powerful weapon when Joe wondered about the apparent absence of God in places of war where innocent lives were lost. Joe was a deep thinker, a spiritual thinker.
He was not daunted, however, by the might of military power. Armed with Psalm 139 he was determined to make the presence of God known wherever he travelled. He believed his mission was to minister to the men and women who would bear fruits of peace in places of conflict around the world. Joe was at home wherever those sailors, Marines and their families were because he knew somehow God was there as well.
Joe represented the hope that the action of God in our lives would prevail over all that is hurtful and wrong in the world. That strong conviction is what energized Joe to live and work so passionately as a priest, a chaplain, a bishop.
His mother and father were the first to infuse in him respect for others. He spoked of his parents and siblings often. Joe’s education in Albany Catholic schools bolstered his belief in strong relationships. Still to today family life programs in our Diocese are stamped with his groundwork.
During our studies for the priesthood I know he found sustenance in the celebration of the Eucharist. He treasured the inspiration found in Thomas Merton’s writings. He cherished the spirit of our Franciscan professors at Christ the King Seminary. He loved his family at home.
What sparked Joe to answer the call to be a priest was similar to what moved the disciples to follow Jesus: the love Jesus had for everyone and his desire to bring justice and peace to all. Little wonder then that Joe’s Episcopal Coat of Arms read, “Set Out for the Deep,” the words we heard in the gospel of Luke moments ago. Joe identified with Jesus and his mission.
The writings attributed to the evangelist Luke have a pastoral tone. Jesus, it is recorded, was telling his new disciples to move out, to cast their nets into unfathomable waters, not only to search and rescue others but also themselves. While navigating from station to station, Joe never stopped contemplating how God spoke to him in his own life.
His conversations with Our Lady of Guadalupe gave him strength during his career and in his final months of sickness. He admired the courage of church leaders like Joseph Bernadin, who had the same cancer. He was grateful for the support of the Good Shepherd parishioners in Alexandria, Virginia where he often celebrated the liturgy.
One of our classmates, Michael Shaw, said last week, “Joe’s life was an adventure, a going forth. The keel of his life, the ballast, was the perennial wisdom of the Catholic Tradition.”
Joe, for sure, was a modern day itinerant disciple who preached God’s love to everyone he met. He also encouraged us to do the same. When he addressed the Good Shepherd parish for the last time he concluded by saying, “I pray that you may continue to stand out like sparks in the stubble; shine out in the crooked world … to tell people how much God really loves them.”
With these words we remember Joe, who has now set out for the eternal deep.
The old Navy motto is, “Not self but country.” Bishop Joseph Estabrook, in Christ like fashion, exemplified that motto with “faith, courage, service and honor.”