Remembering Fr. Daniel Chui, CSB [1959-2014]
A Good and Gentle Witness
Homily at Wake Service - Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Cardinal Flahiff Basilian Centre – December 26, 2014
Goretti and Sr. Maddalena and members of Fr. Daniel’s Family,
Dear Friends of Fr. Dan Chui,
The death of every Christian is always a time of sadness and loss. The death of a priest impacts the Christian community at its core, since a priest is such an important agent and instrument of God’s tenderness and mercy for the entire community. But the death of a young priest, like Daniel Chui touches us very deeply. We are truly sad to see Fr. Dan’s passing and each of us will miss him greatly. We ask ourselves tonight, why is someone so young, so good and effective taken from us in the prime of his ministry? Why was someone like Daniel afflicted so gravely with a disease that caused such prolonged suffering? What is the Lord saying to each of us – to Daniel’s family, his religious family, and to so many friends and people whom he loved and who loved him?
The top priority of an ordained pastoral minister of Christ must be that he loves Jesus Christ as the center and ground of his being. Christ is the hub toward which all the spokes of his life point and in which they are fixed. Danny modeled that for us. This good and faithful priest can be described in some words of Cyprian, third century bishop of Carthage, “We do not say great things. We live them.”
Dan Chui’s death opens a door for us to reflect back on his life, which calls us not just to remember him, but to be like him, to imitate him and be a blessing for others, to let his life be a light on our lives. All of us have been deeply touched by Dan and his goodness and gentleness. Therefore today to each one of us comes his summons to live great things.
First let us turn to the well-known Gospel passage we just heard proclaimed from Matthew’s Sermon on that Galilean hillside long ago. Danny loved this passage and we spoke about it often. The beatitudes are the great charter for Christian living. They reveal God's ultimate justice and outline Jesus' prophetic outreach to those who live on the peripheries of society. So many people – the sick, the lame, the poor and the hungry converge on Jesus on that Galilean hillside. In this awesome biblical scene overlooking the Sea, Jesus puts biblical justice into practice by proclaiming the beatitudes. The crowds that listened to Jesus were awestruck because he spoke with authority, with the force of someone who knew the truth and offered it freely to others.
Dan Chui taught us the meaning of meekness, gentleness and tenderness. Far from being manifestations of weakness, diffidence or incapacity, Dan understood what Jesus meant in his sermon long ago. Dan’s gentleness was a sign of strength, reminding us that it takes more energy to be mean and harsh than it does to be gentle and tender. The people who listened to Fr. Dan were awestruck because he spoke with conviction and authority, with the force of someone who knew the truth and offered it freely to others.
We must hold up the beatitudes as a mirror in which we examine our own lives and consciences. Am I poor in spirit? Am I humble and merciful? Am I gentle of heart and patient with the weak and sinners? Am I pure of heart? Do I bring reconciliation and peace? Am I 'blessed,' in other words, happy? Jesus not only gives us what he has, but also what he is. He is holy and makes us holy. If any single human being has shown me the Beatitudes in action, it is Fr. Dan Chui, my confrère, colleague and friend.
In his Christmas midnight mass yesterday, Pope Francis reminded us that what is most important is not seeking Jesus, but rather allowing the Lord to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me? Dan Chui helped us to ask the real questions. Dan taught us to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us rather than preferring impersonal or administrative solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel. How much the world needs tenderness today!
Dan would have loved Pope Francis’ concluding prayer on Christmas night: “Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.
Fr. Dan also embraced Jesus’ words on the Galilean hillside: to be salt and light for the world. That salt refers to the flavor of the Gospel and the light that shatters the darkness and shadows of our times. Dan brought us the flavor of the Gospel and the light of Christ, especially when our own lives and situations were tasteless and dark. Each of us witnessed Dan’s light and his good deeds, and tonight we glorify God for what we experienced.
I had the privilege of living with Dan Chui during our years together at Frassati House, the Basilian Fathers Scholasticate. He was a wonderful assistant to me. During those years both of us had “day jobs.” I was launching Salt and Light Catholic Television Network and Dan was teaching at St. Michael’s College School. Dan would return home almost each night wiped out. His pastoral heart wasn’t up to the daunting challenge of teaching math to adolescent rambunctious boys in a school that excelled not only in stellar education but in sports and hockey! Dan was adamant in sticking with the teaching, even to the detriment of his health and state of mind! To top it off, many of those “boys” were Italians. Danny would speak to me each evening and refer to the wild ones as “your people!” I still recall Dan’s perplexity at how unruly some of his students were in the classroom. Once Dan was preparing for parent-teacher meetings and trembled at dealing with the parents of one of “my people” who was giving Dan a run for the money. In addition to the young man’s behavior, the student’s parents were siding with their son against the teacher. I encouraged Dan to phone the boy’s parents in order to ask for a private meeting. Dan asked me to be with him when he called them. I spoke with them in Italian and assured them that the teacher was quite up to the occasion and that their son was perhaps in need of some “correction.” They would hear nothing of it. Weeks after the encounter with them, I met the parents at a Woodbridge parish. The mother, mortified, embraced me warmly and apologized for what her son had been doing to Fr. Dan. I will never forget what she said to me: “I told my son that he was not telling us the full story. My son never told us that his math teacher was a saint.”
Daniel was well loved in the parishes in which he worked because he was unfailingly friendly and cheerful. The joy of the priesthood finds its origin in the heart and mind of Christ. Why should priests be joyful? Because it is in our DNA as priests to be bearers of joy! Each day we perform miracles of changing bread and wine into our Lord’s body and blood, forgiving sins in his name, and representing him to others. Is it any wonder that Dan was such a happy priest?
Daniel thought himself as a servant, and proclaimed himself as servant when he ministered to God’s people. He was our brother: gentle, soft-spoken, firm in his conviction of faith, generous in his service of the Basilian congregation, of students, of parishioners of Holy Rosary and Assumption parishes in Toronto and Windsor. He was a good shepherd to the Chinese Catholic community from one end of this country to the other, to young men in formation, and to my colleagues at Salt and Light Catholic Television Network. He was not an orator who dazzled us with public allocution nor a leader who made his presence felt with bravado and spectacle. Rather, Fr. Dan spoke the language of the heart and our hearts spoke back to him.
The passing of Daniel did not take place in private, but before all of us who had the privilege of accompanying him these last months. Over the past months of Dan’s suffering, we have been deeply moved and edified at the ways that Daniel accepted the Lords’ cross and bore it… almost with joy. Throughout his illness he impressed everyone with his peaceful acceptance of whatever was happening to him. This obviously demonstrated his deep faith in a loving God.
Last Friday afternoon, with our entire staff of Salt and Light Television, we gathered around Daniel’s bedside in Anglin House and sang Christmas carols to him. Though his voice was feeble and his energies somewhat zapped, Danny was absolutely radiant. He blessed us, encouraged us and cheered us on. Many of us were unable to hide our tears. Danny’s smile was contagious to each of us in his room. Needless to say when we resumed our retreat experience that afternoon, every single person in the room remarked that they had just seen a saint in the flesh.
Nothing made Dan waver, even the debilitating sickness hidden under a feeding tube and a diminished voice. For this thin, Chinese priest with a voracious appetite, in the end he was unable to eat or drink or hardly able to speak aloud. For a priest who warmed congregations with stirring, simple words in his homilies and gentle words in the secret of the confessional, Daniel was stripped of all those abilities. In the end, the most powerful message he preached was when the words and actions failed. It was then, in the passion of Daniel Chui, that we saw what authentic compassion and communication are all about.
Over the years, many have asked me if the Basilian Fathers had any saints or blesseds among our founders. Strangely enough we don’t. We have many holy men but not any who have made the official cut to have banners hung in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. But from our very first meeting back in 1996, I always felt that Dan Chui was our saint among us. Holy Cross has Brother André and the Capuchins have Fr. Solanus Casey. We had Dan Chui.
Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. Emmanuel is a beautiful, evocative name- it is both a promise on God’s part that he will be with us always till the end of the ages. But the name Emmanuel is also a plea on our behalf begging God to be with us.
In Dan Chui, many of us felt the deep presence of God with us. Dan helped us to pray and beg for God’s presence, especially during difficult moments. And Dan helped us to recognize God’s presence with us through countless gestures of patience listening, compassionate presence, gentleness and goodness. So many people have told me that they had profound encounters of God’s mercy when they went to Dan for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Daniel, thanks for showing us what Jesus’ words on a Galilean hillside meant with your living and dying. Last Friday afternoon, I told you that your work is not done for us. You will intercede for us from above. Of that I am certain.
Danny, as the two of us along with Fr. Andrew Leung launched the Chinese Programming of Salt and Light television, you taught me these important words in Cantonese to be used often in thanksgiving with the Chinese Catholic Community Canada. But tonight, I address them to you:
Door-je, door-je, door-je-lei-mun,
ya hern doy Kanada ga wui dic bon jo,
waw doy yim yu gwong din-toy ji-chi.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you have done for Salt and Light Television and for the Church in Canada and for us.”
May you rest in peace.