Twice in my life I have had to preach at the funeral of two close friends. On the 18th of June, I will preach at my third. One was young, one was in his eighties, and the last one was just a couple of years older than me. One died in an accident; the second died of natural causes, surrounded by the love of family and friends; the third died by suicide last week. The first one was a young father of two, husband of one of my sister’s sisters-in-law. At the time of his death he was my Executive Assistant at the company I ran in Florida. I had always seen him as family, a younger cousin whom I had met at many family events over the years. His loss was devastating to me, at a time when I had decided to leave everything behind to move my family to seminary. I still pray and think of him often. The second is a friend about whom I have written before (https://saintdunstans.org/fr-romans-blog/my-friend-the-judge/.) The third was by far one of the most colorful people I have ever met in my life.
I have often heard that “Everything is bigger in Texas!” This was true about my third friend. He was originally from Waco, a cradle Episcopalian, and an accomplished designer architect, with an impressive list of renown clients around the world. He also had a personality larger than life itself. Gator-skin cowboy boots, carefully pressed trousers, and an assortment of belt buckles always accompanied his colorful shirts, and outrageous ties. He was one of those old-world Episcopalians who always dressed up for Church, held doors open for women, often paid for other people’s meals, and had a charming deference for elderly people, many of whom flocked to him. He had a Texas-sized heart, and there was no favor small or large that he wouldn’t do for a friend. He would drive folks to airports, take older people to their medical appointments, house and pet sit when friends travelled, and call on people who were feeling lonely and isolated. He knew everyone by name and never met a true stranger. Loud, colorful, and full of life, my friend was completely and truly himself. Unapologetically! Always himself, especially with those who had the honor to call themselves his friends.
Claude had a disarming sense of humor that was often irreverent, but always funny, and he was always ready with a joke or a funny story when you needed it the most. I was once the object of one of those stories. There was a time a few years ago when I was under a great deal of stress because of a restoration in the historic roof of the church. If you have never built a house or restored a historic structure, it might be hard for you to empathize with my level of stress at that time. In that case, just take my word for it. I was a mess! Let me give you a bit of context before I tell you what my friend did to cheer me up. At Grace, just like here at Saint Dunstan’s, we always recognized people who donated the Sunday flowers. Every Sunday, we would list the following phrase prominently in our bulletin, “The flowers today are given by ------------- in thanksgiving for -------------.”
One particular Tuesday, in the midst of a particularly stressful week, the secretary came to my office and said, “You know, Mr. Claude just sent us a generous check for our Sunday flowers, and this is what he want us to write in the bulletin…” She handed me a note. It read, “The flowers this week are offered to the glory of God by Claude Barron, in thanksgiving for Bravo Television and The Real Wives of Beverly Hills!’” The secretary looked at me quizzically waiting for my reaction. I broke out in a bout of laughter and I said, “I will call Claude and give you a new note later today.” I was then tempted to pay for the flowers myself and write my own thanksgiving, “The flowers this week are offered by Fr. Roldan, in thanksgiving for obnoxious Texans!”
Being Claude’s priest, in addition to being his friend, made me his confessor and a witness to his loneliness and pain. He, who delighted in brightening the lives of others with his wit and generosity, often felt alone in the world. I empathized deeply with this loneliness because I often found ministry to be quite isolating. I was honored to walk through some dark hours with my friend, Claude, and his friendship made me a better priest and a better person. This has been a hard week for me, and I ask for your prayers for the multitude of Claude’s friends who are struggling to make sense of his death. Claude loved the Lord and was deeply loved by the Lord. His generosity to the small community of Saint Francisville and to Grace Church will never be forgotten. Some in town never quite understood him, and in a way, he was quite comfortable with this. He knew he marched at the sound of a different drum, but he also knew that he was loved deeply by those who took the time to know him.
Rest easy, my friend! As I think of you, I have prayed the antiphon from the traditional Latin liturgy of the Western Church Requiem Mass,
In Paradisum Into Paradise
In Paradisum deducant te Angeli May the angels lead you into paradise,
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres may the martyrs greet you at your arrival
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. and lead you into the holy City of Jerusalem.
Chorus Angelorum te suscipiant May the choir of Angels greet you
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere and like Lazarus, who once was a poor man,
aeternam habeas requiem. may you have eternal rest.
Blessings to all,